During the Renaissance Era, William Congreve wrote the play “The Mourning Bride”, which has the famous quote “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” This quote expressed the belief and practice that music can console many a woe. Often misquoted with the word “beast” The term “breast” refers to the terminology of that time, where the breast held the emotions and soul of man (or woman).
Such is the power of music to calm and console you, lift your mood, soothe your spirit, inspire you, warm your heart, and give you feelings of hope, peace and tranquillity.
On the other hand —
Music can also do the opposite and take you to the darker side of fear, dread and despair. It can shock and scare the bejesus out of you, and oh yes, it can give you the shivers.
And thus with Halloween almost upon us I come to the subject of scary classical and film music to give you the shivers.
I believe that as you age the threshold for what constitutes scary music changes for you.
As a child, I would often listen to Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf with each character in the story having a particular instrument and a musical theme. For Peter it was string instruments. I felt happy and contented whenever Peter’s theme played.
For the Wolf it was french horns with its dark and foreboding theme that gave me the shivers.
When I got older it was the Twilight Zone TV show theme written by avant-garde composer Marius Constant that gave me the shivers as I watched and waited for another eerie episode to begin.
The Season 5 episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” with the monster on the airplane wing (accompanied by very frightening music) definitely weirded me out.
Now that I have matured (that being debatable) into an adult and become somewhat jaded, my threshold for what constitutes scary music has changed and evolved. It now takes a much stronger dose of musical scariness to give me the shivers
In honor of Halloween, it’s time to dust off some old and some relatively new music that can conjure up that eerie and scary side of Halloween with its all-round horror. So here are my picks of some music (with video) that can do just that. Maybe some of them will give you the shivers.
The Famous Shower Scene From “Psycho”
Composer Bernard Herrmann composed and recorded the entire soundtrack to Psycho using only string instruments. This included the terrifying shower scene with its use of screeching violins, The shower scene music was an original all-strings piece by Herrmann entitled “The Murder.”
Jaws Music Video (John Williams)
Composer John Williams wrote the soundtrack to Jaws. The main theme for Jaws revolves around a simple alternating pattern of two bass notes identified as “E and F” or “F and F#.” This created a feeling of suspense and a fear of approaching danger (of the shark). For Williams this was meant to represent the shark as an “unstoppable force” of “mindless and instinctive attacks.”
Krzysztof Penderecki – Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Krzysztof Urbański
This was composed by Penderecki in 1960 and dedicated it to the victims of Hiroshima. Scored for 52 string instruments, with screeching violins and some percussive effects, you have over 9 minutes of one of the most terrifying and scary pieces of music ever composed, of any genre.
Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens (1922) – Movie
(translated as Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror)
Originally released in 1922 as Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, director F.W. Murnau’s chilling and eerie adaption of Stoker’s Dracula is a silent masterpiece of terror which to this day is the most striking and frightening portrayal of the legend. Here is the movie trailer for this silent movie.
This music fits right in for Halloween — very spooky and eerily atmospheric!
George Crumb: “Vox Balaenae” (Voice of the Whale) for 3 masked players:
Mimi Stillman, flute, Arlen Hlusko, cello, Amy Yang, piano
Inspired by the singing of the humpbacked whale, the performance requires that each of the three players wear a black half-mask while the stage is lit in a deep blue color. This has amplified flute and human voice where the flutist sings into flute while playing it. Just right for Halloween, this is bizarre and spookingly eerie music.
Krzysztof Penderecki: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1 (First part)
Here is another piece from Penderecki with its dark, brooding and chaotic strings. Try blasting this anxiety inducing music from your house on Halloween night and you may be scaring off the trick or treaters.
Béla Bartók “Out of Doors” Suite (part 1 of 2)
For the first 90 seconds the piano is getting quite a workout with this piano bang fest. If you want to let out all your frustrations (and scare off your family) then this is the piece (with plenty of discordant chords) to learn on your piano.
“The farther you travel, the darker it gets.” This is the theme to the horror movie Insidious. Dark, mysterious and creepy to the max! Here is some perfectly spooky music for Halloween.
Dark Music – Witch Factory
The repeating arpeggiated piano in this theme music will remind you of the original Halloween movie theme. With the “factory” sound effects and all — this is bewitchingly wicked music for Halloween.
Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring – Dances of the Young Girls, Mock Abduction [Charles Mackerras]
“The Rite of Spring” was Stravinsky’s third ballet. However, this was not a ballet like Tchaikovsky’ “Swan Lake” with pleasant music amid beautiful scenery. No this was music that seemed brutal to the point of vulgarity. The dancing mirrored this music in being rough, sharp and angular, lacking the grace and charm of classical ballet dancing.
The audience at the Paris premiere on May 29, 1913 didn’t know that this ballet would be so different from the ballets they were accustomed to. Many in the audience were stunned by the music and the dancing and a small scale riot broke out during the performance. As the riot ensued, two factions in the audience attacked each other, then the orchestra, which kept playing under a hail of vegetables and other objects. Forty people were forcibly ejected. The music you hear on this video was music that was played during the start of the riot which was near the beginning of the production.
Now if all these pieces are a bit too heavy and scary for you youngsters out there then here I give you…
Bambi – Quail Gets Shot
In the movie Bambi, besides the harrowing scene where Bambi’s mom is shot and killed by the hunters, there is another traumatizing moment in Bambi. Watch this scene to see what that is and listen to the impending, foreboding music of three notes that repeat and build in intensity and speed until there is a sudden climax. The building tension of the music makes you feel dread that something bad is going to happen.
Thanks for visiting my blog and my 2nd post.
Blog Post 2 — “Classical and Film Music to Give You the Shivers” — October 28, 2013 (Revised July 16, 2017)
blog.themusicalnose.com/?p=393 (this Blog Post 2)
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