October 31, 2008

"What are the scariest pieces of classical music?"

There's an obvious right answer, isn't there? Or 2 obvious best answers....

Jac has those 2 plus 2 others. You must have more.

64 comments:

AllenS said...

To me, the most inspirational classical music is the theme song for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

peter hoh said...

Carmina Burana.

peter hoh said...

Here's a link to some of Carmina Burana.

hdhouse said...

for me ..listening...Shastakovich leningrad symphony or prokofiev alexander nevsky...

scariest to play? rite of spring or roussel bachaus en ariadne...both can fall apart in a heartbeat..

from childhood...the score from disney's fantasia.

peter hoh said...

Does this music seem more ominous because of how it was used in this movie?

Diamondhead said...

The last movement of Symphonie Fantastique.

Diamondhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Palladian said...

Um, no contest. Krzysztof Penderecki's De Natura Sonoris. Or his Utrenja Ewangelia. Actually, almost all of Penderecki's work from the 1960s and 1970s.

Stanley thought so.

Palladian said...

Depends on your definition of "classical music". If by that you mean music of the "classical" period of the 18th and 19th century, then I'd nominate almost anything by Mozart as producing extreme horror when I hear it.

michiel said...

They named Bach's Toccata in D-minor in jac's comments. I love the visualization in that clip! Does the music *look* scary? I think it does.

CarmelaMotto said...

Mussorgsky's Die Huette der Baba Yaga. The music was inspired by the tale of the German witch of the Black Forest who feasted on children who were lost in the woods after dark. I can't find the music.

My elementary school music teacher played the music, and (I was maybe 6 or 7 so I am fuzzy) I think the orchestra used the strings inside the piano to make some really scary sounds. Scared the hell out of me.

I woke up my parents every night for weeks, fairly certain that evil was in our living room. I had to run past that room to get to my parents room and I was terrified of it grabbing me. Since they always took me back to my bedroom, I started sneaking in and sleeping on the floor of their bedroom rather than waking them.

blake said...

peter and michiel bring up the two most common works I hear in a horror context. The Phantom of the Opera playing the Bach Toccata, for example.

Carmina Burana I first recall in use for John Boorman's weird Excalibur. But it was the theme to Knott's Halloween ride "Army of the Underworld" for years.

Rite of Spring, of course, is very savage sounding in parts. Holst's "Mars" still seems more ominous to me than the "Terminator" theme which derives from it.

For my money, German expressionism is the most disturbing, scariest art. "Wozzeck" freaks me out.

Actual classical music (1750-1810) is the least scary stuff ever.

blake said...

Oh, hd--JAC mentions "Night on Bald Mountain", which is the scary music in Fantasia.

DBrooks17 said...

I'm not sure how scary it is to adults, but the piece Vox Balaenae(Voice of the Whale) by George Crumb made my best friend's children cry in fear the first time they heard it. Nosferatu by Art Zoyd is one of the scariest pieces of music I have ever heard.

Original George said...

Death Don't Have No Mercy

Talk
Great God
Yeah

Well, he'll leave you standin' and cryin' in this land.
Well, Death will leave you standin' and cryin' in this land.
Well, he'll come to your house and he won't stay long.
You'll look in the bed, and somebody will be gone.
Death will leave you standin' and cryin' in this land.

The Rev. Gary Davis

Simon said...

Bruhns' Prelude in E minor, BWV 847?

I hate that the first few bars of the D minor Toccata and Fugue has become a hammer horror cliche. I never listen to the toccata any more; I skip straight to the fugue, which - when played well - one of the most staggering pieces of music I've ever heard. I can't count how many times I've heard that over the last 28 years, but it's still fresh and exciting - thrilling, even - every time I do. Some people have roller coasters. I have the d minor fugue.

wanderlust747 said...

schubert, death and the maiden

Jerome Cole said...

None of this music was scary! Your threshold for scariness must be quite low. I do however feel a sudden desire to invade Poland.

The Drill SGT said...

I know it as Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D Monir, but agree with Michiel

but it needs to be a big organ (without Titus jokes)

The Drill SGT said...

For the symbolism involved, it ought to be Wagner's "Flight of the Valkyries"

Chosers of the dead that are.

bleeper said...

The opening chords of Rebel's "Les Elemens" are kind of scary, well, not really scary, scary, but dischordant and interesting.

Stravinsky wrote some good stuff - Sacre du Printemps has some eerie moments - the opening with solo bassoon in the upper register is out there.

And Carmina Burana has a lot of good music in it - the drinking song, surely popular among many who post here, the various other tunes, if you study the words, are a lot of great fun. Those parts rarely make the movie soundtrack reel.

Chip Ahoy said...

Those are all very frightening.

* shivers *

You all get an A. I don't know no nuth'n 'bout no classical scary music, but I do know Mitternacht by E Nomine is pretty scary. Also Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield is the shit and gives me the fear. Although those aren't proper classical tunes, so I get no A, they'll always be classics to me.

* hides *

Palladian said...

"I hate that the first few bars of the D minor Toccata and Fugue has become a hammer horror cliche. I never listen to the toccata any more; I skip straight to the fugue, which - when played well - one of the most staggering pieces of music I've ever heard. I can't count how many times I've heard that over the last 28 years, but it's still fresh and exciting - thrilling, even - every time I do."

I'm not terribly sad that BWV565 has passed into cliche. Bach wrote many fugues far better than that one, and many scholars believe that it began its life as an improvisation that Bach used to test out organs. Of course, many of Bach's works may have started life as improvisations, so that isn't necessarily a condemnation. But I find BWV565 a little coarse, too much a show-off piece. If I had to pick a Bach show-off fugue, I'd have to go with contrapunctus IX from BWV1080, here played in a wonderfully flamboyant manner by Glenn Gould on the organ(!)

On the other hand, BWV565 is impressively gigantic when heard live in a good space with a good organist playing a good organ, and it was many people's first exposure to Bach in early life which counts for something.

Tibore said...

Wow. I love Carmina Burana, and never found it scary. Loud, yes. Ominous? At points. Scary? Never.

I'd nominate anything out of Penderecki's opera "Devils of Loudon", but it doesn't qualify as "classical", not when its debut was in '69. Still, though, a pretty damn ominous work, once you get past the nails-on-a-chalkboard nature of the atonal score.

Palladian said...

Come on, people! Penderecki is definitely the scariest composer!

OK, I'll throw another one out: Bartok's "Music For Stings Percussion And Celesta"

Creepsville! And also in "The Shining!"

Palladian said...

"I'd nominate anything out of Penderecki's opera "Devils of Loudon", but it doesn't qualify as "classical", not when its debut was in '69."

Yes! Yes! Another vote for the wonderful Penderecki!

I think "classical" is being used here as a synonym for orchestral, traditionally scored music, music other than pop, jazz, etc.

Tibore said...

Ah, damn, I shoulda read the thread before posting. Palladian beat me to Penderecki. :(

Unfortunately, my exposure to non-rock, blues, jazz, popular, modern music (whew!) is unfortunately limited to opera, some ballet, and very few other pieces (worked in an opera house for a while). So all I have to work from is opera.

Some of the parts out of Mozart's Don Giovanni work, although I generally think of Mozart in the same way that Palladian does (Mariage of Figaro *shudder*...).

miller said...

Imagine it's January 21st, 2009. And they're playing "Hail to the Chief."

And Bambi is the one smiling.

I cannot imagine anything scarier.

Sofa King said...

I have to vote for Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C# minor. I find it's simplicity to make it all the more terrifying.

Here it is played by the old boy himself:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Wddtne7KSs

Sofa King said...

I also think the Koyanisqaatsi theme is scary in a creepy way.

donohue2 said...

I'm going to be completely, 100% honest. I was going to be all music-snooty and talk about how silly it was to have any consideration of this question without talking about Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet. And then I saw it was on there. There's a lesson in there, folks: always check the link.

The dirge in Benjamin Britten's Nocturne for Horn, Tenor and Strings is pretty scary. I think this is it- it's listed as it, but I have no sound on my computer right now:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOAFtCQlvLw

ricpic said...

Palladian beat me to it, a lot of Bartok is genuinely scary as opposed to Bald Mountain melodramatically scary.

The Good Reverend said...

Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King." No one's seen "M"?

Palladian said...

"Some of the parts out of Mozart's Don Giovanni work, although I generally think of Mozart in the same way that Palladian does (Mariage of Figaro *shudder*...)."

Eeek!

OK, I'll do you one better...

THE MAGIC FLUTE!

Ahhhh!!!

Original George said...

Purple Haze, The Kronos Quartet

Qu'ran, Byrne/Eno

Atmospheres, Ligeti

Tibore said...

"Yes! Yes! Another vote for the wonderful Penderecki!"

Wonderful???

I don't know... after living through a whole month run of "Devils", I think I'd rather listen to a cheese grater be lovingly run over a chalkboard for 3 hours. I've since discovered that "atonal" is something I just don't understand (although admittedly "Devils" is as much a "beginners piece" for atonal music as Special Relativity is a beginners topic for math).

Admittedly, though, the SOB did manage to get the feeling of chaos, descent into insanity, and demonic possesion across. It's just that much of the music when sung sounds like a bad soprano going through the entire scale looking for the right note. I fell into blissful oblivion when the next show was a very standard, tonal opera (one of Puccini's, I think).

Here's a sarcastic nomination in the "Showgirls. Absolutely!" sense: Bizet's "Carmen". The mere thought of it sends chills of fright down my spine.

Although the funny thing is that, despite my sheer desire to avoid it, and my utter illness at the thought of the piece as a whole, the aria "Habanera" is one of my favorites. It's the only part of the opera that I can even listen to. Isn't that weird?

Tibore said...

"Eeek!

OK, I'll do you one better...

THE MAGIC FLUTE!

Ahhhh!!!"


WAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!... (*runs screaming*)

;)

Actually, I can't comment on that one. It didn't cycle through by the time I left that job.

But durn it, when the supervisors provided pillows for us light techs during "Figaro", I knew I was in for a bad time. Yeeeeee-OWCH.

Folks, off topic here: If anyone ever tells you that a good first opera for a first time listener is "Marriage of Figaro", punch them for me, will ya? Hard, and straight to the mouth. I'll bet hundreds of thousands of people through the years were turned off to opera because of the circulation of that stupid conceit.

Tibore said...

Pssst... Palladian...

COSI FAN TUTTE!!!!!

(*smirks* *ducks*)

Harwood said...

The Nutcracker.

Ron said...

Vaughn Williams' Symphony Antartica is more scary than you'd think!

garage mahal said...

Wasn't Paganini the scariest player of all time?

blake said...

Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King." No one's seen "M"?

Yes, great movie. But I didn't pick out this music.

blake said...

Orchestral movie scores probably fall into the "classical music" category these days, so can I have a nod for Bernard Herrman's Psycho?

How about Lalo Schifrin's wonderfully literal score to The Amityville Horror?

matthew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
matthew said...

Penderecki has got to be the winner, though I would say his "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" wins out for sheer darkness.

Berg's Wozzeck is up there though.

The scariest non-classical album is "Spiderland" by Slint. "Good Morning Captain!" is one of the few songs ever to creep me out.

Brad V said...

Parts of Stockhausen's 'Gruppen' give off a sort of chaotic, hopeless death in outer space feel.

The ghastly string bass opening of the final and funerary 'Horror Scherzo' from Mahler's 10th Symphony also comes to mind.

amba said...

Schubert's "Der Erlk├Ânig," based on a poem by Goethe. Here are the words, and here's the music, sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. The piano part is especially scary.

Simon said...

Tibore said...
"Some of the parts out of Mozart's Don Giovanni work"

Yes, I hear Aria Giovanni is quite spectacular. The aria in Don Giovanni that is.

Sofa King said...

Atmoshpheres? Come on, there is NO WAY his Atmospheres is scarier than his Requiem

Methadras said...

Flight of the Bumble-Bee & Flight of the Valkyries. Gives me the scaries.

Skeptical said...

My six year old freaks out when he hears the opening of Also Sprach Zarathrusta. He sits in front of an iPod player full of my wife's classical music, listening intently for very long stretches. A weird little dude. Sharp as a tack, though.

jdeeripper said...

No piece of classical music is as scary as the threat of being forced to listen to classical music.

Especially for a kid.

This piece is not scary in a trivial way but deep. He had a great look . Would have fit in well in the Hammer films .

Palladian said...

"No piece of classical music is as scary as the threat of being forced to listen to classical music."

Present something as bitter medicine and it goes down hard. Let children discover great music easily and naturally and it becomes a part of their lives. I listened to all sorts of music as a child, from Bach to Kenny Rogers but I gravitated towards complexity, the baroque period and early music as I got older.

I'm so glad I grew up with great "classical" music that became my own, and wasn't forced upon me.

Simon said...

Palladian said...
"I find BWV565 a little coarse, too much a show-off piece."

Oh, I know it's showy. But good God, done right, I feel like lighting a cigarette after it gets done. It's not just the scope of it (as you say, impressively gigantic); it's the the sheer force of the thing. If the organist knows what they're doing and has a strong sense of rhythm (I'm always surprised by how many classical musicians can't or won't "feel the groove" and vary the pace), it comes at you like a freight train. It's a sexy piece - lots of peaks and plateaus. Turn it up good and loud.

Simon said...

Skeptical said...
"My six year old freaks out when he hears the opening of Also Sprach Zarathrusta."

I always felt sorry for Strauss. What are you supposed to do? You've just writen what might be the greatest introduction prior to fanfare for the common man; how the hell are you supposed to follow that? And of course he can't. The rest of the piece is such a disappointment.

I think we've covered scariest; what do people think is the most moving piece(s)? I've seen Dido's Lament cited, but it does nothing for me. It really has to be the Barber addagio, doesn't it?

Sofa King said...

Moving in any emotion?

Pines of the Appian way is guaranteed to causes spine-tingling for me every single time.

blake said...

Oh, I just knew "Adagio" would come up.

"Prophetiae Sibyllarum" moves me, but it's not in a way I can easily describe.

Bob said...

Tchaikovsky's lesser-known piece Francesca da Rimini is pretty terrifying, since it deals with the torture of souls in Hell. It was taken from Dante's Inferno, and tells of Francesca and her illicit lover Paolo, who are buffeted by hurricane-force winds in the Second Circle of Hell.

I saw the piece performed live when I was living briefly in Iceland; watching the conductor shoot out his hand and instantly be answered by crashes from the symbols was great fun to watch.

hdhouse said...

one of the continually nicer aspects of the Althouse Community is that this topic can generate 58 or so comments without loosing out to MTV or VH1.

Bravo troops.

Balfegor said...

Re: Penderecki, I thought the Libera Me to his Polish Requiem -- the recapitulation right near the end -- was really fantastic. I don't know about scary, but it does make an impression.

Penderecki's more famous works, e.g. the Threnody, De Natura Sonoris etc. could be heard as scary, but I don't really think so.

I jumped the first time I heard the hammer blows at the end of Mahler's 6th.

My sister was creeped out by Arvo Part's Sarah Was 90 Years Old. Possibly, this was because when she heard it, she didn't realise I was playing a recording -- she thought someone outside was beating the drums and chanting.

A cousin of mine described the first part of Respighi's Roman Circuses as "the sound of human suffering," although it's not particularly scary.

The Jwon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Jwon said...

Simon Said:

"I always felt sorry for Strauss. What are you supposed to do? You've just writen what might be the greatest introduction prior to fanfare for the common man; how the hell are you supposed to follow that? And of course he can't. The rest of the piece is such a disappointment."

I totally disagree, although I see where you are coming from. The intro to Zarathustra is definitely the most climatic part of the piece, but I wouldn't say the rest of the piece is a disappointment. The slow section right after the intro for example has one of the most beautiful phrases I have heard.

Anyways, here are a few of my favorites that I don't think have been mentioned yet:

Liszt's Dante symphony is pretty scary at times

Rachmaninoff's Prelude in G minor
(especially when played on pipe organ, but what minor key piece doesn't sound scary on a church pipe organ)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyArDcQbQ-Q

Joseph Suk's Asrael Symphony

Also just about any piece with the Dies Irae (Mozart's Requiem, Berlioz Symphony fantasique, etc) just read the lyrics to Dies Irae, downright frightening

Penderecki's stuff definitely takes the cake thou, although it is mostly atonal

(and what about the wolf's theme from peter and the wolf? haha)

harry.curtis said...

All of the pieces of music described are nothing compared to Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta III. Adagio.

It features in a scene from The Shining, which says it all really.

Iceman said...

Henry Purcells march from "Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary".

It's rather sinister.

Someone mentions:

Don Giovanni(I vote for the Commendatore Scene).

I couldnt stay alone in a dark isolated mansion and listen to Penderecki works, but fascinating music though.