We’re back with a brand new list of spooky, creepy, awesome music to get you into the Halloween spirit. Featuring mostly dead white men, but in a way, isn’t that terrifying in and of itself?
I have arranged these roughly in order from least to most disturbing, so you know, feel free to bow out if you get too scared. Each piece will be given a score in the form of jack-o-lantern gifs. YouTubez in the post and a full Spotify playlist at the end!
1. “Prelude for the Witches” Dido and Aeneas, Purcell (1689)
Admire the cleverness of me, opening this playlist with a prelude, and one about witches makes this extra Halloweeny. The witches in this opera counterintuitively represent Roman Catholics coming to ruin British people, so that’s a fun historical twist! Is it…spooky? Not really. I give it a score of one cute, uneasy pumpkin
2. “The Pumpkin’s Dance” Cipollino, Khachaturian (1974)
I can’t believe I actually found a pumpkin piece and this one is so cute and funny. This ballet is based on a children’s story that’s a very thinly veiled metaphor for political oppression, featuring vegetables as all of the characters. It’s the original Veggie Tales but with much better music. The Pumpkin is an older vegentleman who lives in the town and is given music with a slow, sassy beat accented with some spicy tambourine. This pumpkin might be old but he’s still got some kicks as you’ll hear by the end.
Spooky? No. Halloweeny? YIS. I give this piece a score of one pumpkin dancing, obviously.
3. Le ballet des ombres (THE GHOST DANCE!), Berlioz (1829)
Berlioz, noted fan of opium, came up with some weird visions and loved writing creepy music, so it’s no real shock he’s on this list. This piece is basically an instruction book on How To Ghost in the form of a choral work. Translation below. I give this guy a score of unsettling child star twins with pumpkins.
Form your ranks, begin the dance
The shadow falls on the day fled.
Shadows, your reign begins
In the dark horror of the night.
When winds of storms
Shake the green forests,
It also comes in our groves
Eerie black cypresses.
Form your ranks, begin the dance,
Shadows, take you by the hand,
Disturb this august Silence
Who rules the human race!
For jealousy points ranks,
Shadows of shepherds and kings!
Remember, pride, envy
You divided once!
One not felt that the sleepers;
In the other lived happiness.
All took different roads
To come all the same goal.
Shadows, forget the earth
And the pleasures and work!
Form a light dance
Who curve barely poppies!
Train your rank, dance!
But the moon rises and shines.
Win the Elysee in silence,
And let there be peace at night!
Fatal when in dark nights
Our voice will wake you up,
Consider that at the voice of shadows, one day yours will unite.
4. The Witch’s Death Dance, The Magic Mirror Suite, Hurlston, 1897
The Magic Mirror Suite is based on the story of Snow White, and the Witch/Queen/Stepmother/Whatever-Other-Unfortunate-Trope-of-Women gets a very dramatic death dance. She just wants to be hot, and y’all are shaming her for taking matters into her own hands and trying to murder someone. Anyway, this is a pretty slappin dance. I give it one jack-o-lantern for a witch to cry on/die on.
5. La sorcière de midi (The Noon Witch),Dvorak (1896)
This symphonic poem (aka, a symphonic work that tells a specific story, and if you ever go to a concert and they don’t list in GREAT DETAIL the plot of that symphonic work, you should throw tomatoes at the Outreach/Marketing office (not really (maybe))). This particular story is creeptastic.
A mother is home alone with her child, who is being a total BRAT. She gets fed up and tells him to knock it off or she’ll call “The Noon Witch”, just to get him to be quiet. Mom has no real intentions of calling the Noon Witch and probably doesn’t even really believe in this old wive’s tale, but unfortunately, the Noon Witch hears her name and comes to check out this bratty child for herself. Mom rushes all over the house trying to find her son before the Noon Witch, and when she does find him, she clutches him to her chest in terror. Dad comes home from the fields and finds his wife fainted, he revives her and they find the child dead in her arms.
Did the witch get her? Did the woman have a psychotic break and smother her own child? Is that how the Noon Witch works? VERY MYSTERY AND SPOOK. I give it one FOREBODING PUMPKIN IN A CHILDREN’S FILM!
6. “When the Night Wind Howls”, Ruddigore, Gilbert & Sullivan (1887)
Did I ever think Gilbert & Sullivan would end up on this list? No. Is this aria pretty fuckin’ great? Yes. The opera is basically an original Scream, in that it’s a comic/spooky opera, but in this moment they actually achieve some effective spook levels. Bryn Terfel has beautiful diction so I think you’ll be able to hear the story for yourself but in case you want to follow along with text, check this link. I give this a score of slightly menacing jack-o-lantern in the dark.
7.”Demons Dance” Medieval Suite, Hoover (1981)
That’s Katherine Hoover to you. Hooray, a woman on this list! Spooky flutin’ about in this Demon’s Dance for solo flute and orchestra, plus a Dies Irae quotation in there if you listen closely. I give it a score of flickering pumpkin + candles because, medieval.
8. “The Witch, Baba Yaga” OR “The Witches from Macbeth” WHO KNOWS APPARENTLY The Children’s Album, Tchaikovsky (1878)
So I found a couple of different translations as to what this work is about and while sources are divided on whether it’s Baba Yaga, or the witches from Macbeth, or maybe just a totally generic, no name witch. Either way, it’s got extra creep-factor with the jittery strings in this version for string trio (originally for piano) and it’s fun to think that Tchaikovsky wrote this for children since it’s pretty spooky. I give it, one witch with a cute pumpkin moon, since it’s for kids
9. “He Saw a Skull”, Gordon, 2009
Get ready for seven minutes of disconcerting dissonance and glissandos repeating the text “He saw a skull” From the composer’s website “The text is taken from a short saying by Rabbi Hillel found in the Talmudic tractate Pirkei Avot: He saw a skull floating on the water. He said to the skull, ‘Because you drowned others, they drowned you. And they who drowned you will themselves be drowned.'” Skulls! Halloween! Discomfort via music! Embrace it! I give this a score of endless skull and pumpkin loop.
10. “Tre volte miagola la gatta” Macbeth, Verdi (1847)
The opera is a version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and this is the classic witches scene, bubble, bubble, toil and trouble and all that. Luckily this video has subs so you can just watch along to the opening scene of Act 3. These witches have some dope music and Verdi writes the feeling of dread like nobody else. I give this a score of, one witch mask neglected amongst a sea of pumpkin masks.
Back tomorrow with part 2 of our extremely-mini program notes, but the full playlist is already available below! Halloween responsibly.