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Spooky, Scary Classical Music

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If there's a particular music piece that elicits an immediate reaction from me, it's Night on Bald Mountain which I first heard as a kid while watching Asylum. This piece still gives me chills whenever I hear it, especially on Halloween. There are many Classical music pieces that have been used in horror/suspense films through the years, here are some of the most recognizable.

Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta - 3rd Movement - Composed in 1936 by the imaginative 20th century Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. The said piece was written for the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher. The third movement (adagio) is particularly eerie, using the celesta, timpani and xylophone along with string instruments to create a dark tone color. The third movement was used in Stanley Kubrock's movie The Shining.

The Planets - Mars - Composed by the 20th century British composer Gustav Holst. It was first performed in its entirety at the Queen's Hall in 1920. The Planets is an orchestral suite consisting of seven movements; Mars, the Bringer of War (first movement) is particularly haunting. The composer's inventive use of dissonance and meter adds to the intensity of this piece.

Night on Bald Mountain - Composed in 1867 by Russian composer, and member of "The Mighty Five," Modest Mussorgsky. Sadly, the great composer passed away without hearing his original composition performed on stage. However, Rimsky-Korsakov's arrangement brought the needed attention to this piece. This chilling music was orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski in Disney's Fantasia; the music was also used in the 1972 horror film Asylum.

Carnival of the Animals - Aquarium - Composed by the prolific French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns in 1896. From this ensemble suite, the "Aquarium" is chillingly beautiful in particular with the haunting use of piano and strings. This piece has been been featured in such films as Only You (1994) and Babe (1995).

Rite of Spring - Sacrificial Dance - Composed from 1910 to 1913 by the innovative Russian composer of the 20th century Igor Stravinsky. It premiered in 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The use of percussion in the Sacrificial Dance (Danse Sacrale) makes this last movement sound menacing.

For more spooky, scary music, check out the following resources:

  • The Scariest Film Scores Ever Written - Do you remember that spine-tingling prom scene towards the end of the movie Carrie? How about that hair-raising shower scene in the movie Psycho? As you think back to these scary scenes from classic horror/suspense films, can you also recall the music that's playing in the background? Chances are you do.That's precisely the power of music in films - it makes a scene more memorable.
  • The Most Memorable Music Themes - Many of us grew up watching classic television series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Tales from the Darkside and The Twilight Zone. Many of these series can still be seen on tv and are attracting a new generation of viewers. These shows have become part of our lives and their respective music themes has been ingrained in our psyche.
  • Horror Film Music Composers - Music plays a vital role in movies; it helps set the mood, makes a scene more dramatic and it helps build the suspense. One type of film genre where music is important is in horror movies. Think back to your favorite scenes from a horror or suspense film and chances are you'll also recall the music attached to that particular scene. Composers like Bernard Hermann and John Carpenter have created hair-raising music themes for scary movies that are now considered classics.

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