Music That Goes Bump in the Night

Happy Halloween! As I’m writing this blog post, I’m listening to one of my favorite pieces of “eerie” music, Aaron Copland’s one-act ballet score for Grohg. I first encountered this work as an undergraduate at Shenandoah Conservatory. The orchestra was playing this piece in its reworked form by the composer as his Dance Symphony and I was intrigued by how “Un-Coplandesque” it sounded. After doing a bit of research I discovered that Copland had written this piece as a 22-year-old student in Paris and it was originally a ballet score based on the silent film horror classic Nosferatu. I did some more digging and was pleased to find a recording of the entire ballet score done by the Cleveland Orchestra sometime in the early 1990’s.

                What really drew me into this music was its evocative nature and I’ve always been fascinated by the power of music to set a mood, paint a visual picture, or bring to mind certain emotions. I feel that music can achieve this effect quite viscerally, without the need for interpretation or discussion. We see this in action every day with scores for motion pictures or television shows. Without the musical score behind them, our favorite films would seem to be lacking a key ingredient to their emotional impact.

                Another piece that creates an “eerie” soundscape for me is Bela Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. Famously used in the opening shots of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, this music also sets a scene of madness devolving into violence. What are some of your favorite “scary” pieces of music? Certainly, the fantastic or macabre have been a fertile source of musical material for many composers. Thanks for taking the time to read this blog post and I hope that you have more treats than tricks on this spooky holiday!

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