Top Ten Spookiest Classical Pieces
Perhaps I’m feeling macabre, but tonight I’m digging out my favorite spooky classical pieces and listening to them. So I thought putting together a top ten list of these would be fun while I drink my scotch. Note: These are not really in any particular order. I love them all.
1. Beethoven: Piano Trio in D major, op. 70 no. 1, “Ghost” - 2nd movement. Rattling of chains, shrieking of spirits; the nickname of this trio fits it well. The first and third movements are good as well, but only the second movement is really spooky.
2. Schubert: Der Leiermann (from Winterreise). A heartbroken young man sings about the hurdy-gurdy, an outcast who sits just outside the village and plays his instrument while dogs snarl at him and people ignore him. Particularly chilling is that this is the last song of an hour-long cycle, and it drones on without clear resolution, ending with the line: “Strange old man, should I go with you? Will you accompany my songs on your hurdy-gurdy?”
3. Mussorgsky: Night On Bald Mountain. You may know this one from Disney’s Fantasia, which is featured during the Witches’ Sabbath sequence.
4. Schubert: Der Erlkönig. Based on a poem by Goethe, this song tells the chilling story of a father and his ailing child riding through the woods on horseback, while a malicious spirit tries to lure the boy away, unseen and unheard by the father.
5. Saint-Saens: Danse Macabre. Death plays his fiddle in the cemetery, rousing all the skeletons from their graves and dancing with them until they have to slink back at the first light of dawn.
6. Brahms: Ballade in D minor, op. 10 no. 1, “Edward.” Based on a Scottish ballade, the story is of a mother who knows that her son has murdered his father - she just wants to hear him say it himself.
7. Shostakovich: Viola Sonata. Shostakovich composed during the height of Soviet censorship, and his music almost always has a hunted, almost panicked feel to it. He composed this viola sonata just a month before his death.
8. Shostakovich: String Quartet no. 8 in C minor, op. 110. Between the frenzy of the second movement and the insistent “knocking on the door” of the fourth, this quartet can really put you on edge. What makes this music even freakier is Shostakovich’s musical signature (D E-flat C B) throughout the work.
9. Mussorgsky: The Hut of Baba Yaga the Witch (from Pictures at an Exhibition). This one always sounds like Baba Yaga’s “Hut On Chicken’s Legs” is chasing me through the woods, but that might just be my wild imagination.
10. Scriabin: Piano Sonata no. 9, “Black Mass.” Some of the directions that Scriabin writes in the score are “mysteriously murmuring”, and “with a sweetness that becomes increasingly poisonous,” which is a pretty apt description for much of this work. It begins mysteriously, then builds in tension until it all explodes in some kind of orgiastic climax. It ends just as enigmatically as it begins.