It’s that time of year again, the spooky-music-for-Halloween season!
Here are four Halloween classical music hits, complete with fun facts and cocktail party-worthy trivia.
Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain
Modest Mussorgsky taught himself to compose by playing piano arrangements of orchestral compositions. And after his decline into alcoholism, he was known for his eccentric, erratic, and unreliable demeanor.
Night on Bald Mountain was originally titled “St. John’s Night on Bald Mountain” and celebrates St. John’s Eve, the shortest night of the year (June 23) despite the fact that we typically listen to this piece in autumn.
Mussorgsky’s composition was not heard in his lifetime. The version of Night on Bald Mountain we all know and love today was arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov—Mussorgsky’s original is rarely heard.
Learn more about Modest Mussorgsky and Night on Bald Mountain on the Salon97 podcast!
Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre
Camille Saint-Saëns, truly a compositional force to be reckoned with, began studying piano at age two-and-a-half and was known for writing in numerous classical genres: chamber music, orchestral music, opera, solo piano music, sacred and secular choral music, and concerti.
Danse Macabre was written in 1875, at the beginning of the darkest period of his life. He married in the same year, and both of the couple’s children died within six weeks of each other.
“Dies Irae” from Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem
This is a musical setting of the Catholic funeral mass. Requiem came to be after poet and cultural icon Alessandro Manzoni, a close friend of Verdi’s, passed away. Verdi was too grief-stricken to attend the funeral, so he wrote this incredible piece of music instead.
Hector Berlioz’s “March to the Scaffold” from Symphonie Fantastique
Hector Berlioz was an incredible romantic who pined after women, had torrid love affairs, and relished romantic literature. As a result of his father’s disapproval of Berlioz’ involvement in music, he never learned to play the piano but instead played guitar and lute.
Symphony Fantastique tells the story of an artist with a lively imagination who poisons himself with opium in the depths of despair caused by his hopeless love. The work was written for Irish actress Harriet Smithson. Harriet did not attend the original premiere, but Berlioz remained persistent and finally convinced her to attend a performance. Upon attending, she realized the piece was written for her. They courted, and this being painful for Berlioz, he convinced her to marry him by drinking a lethal dose of opium. When she said yes, Berlioz drank the antidote. They married after he recovered. Wow.
What are your favorite spooky pieces of classical music? Happy Halloween!