All Hallows Eve, Celtic Old Year, Dia de los Muertos and Halloween. It’s that time of the year, with dark days ahead, to tell each other scary stories. To scare and most of all be scared because horror is, despite the exuberance of Halloween costume parties, an intimate affair. To enlive the intimate pleasures of horror. For that, true beauty is, as it is with drama, indispensable. Drawn from the world of opera, classical music, metal and movie soundtracks comes the Wagner & Heavy Metal HALLOWEEN Top 10.
10. Erlkönig – Franz Schubert
There are more songs by Schubert that send chills to the bone (Der Doppelgänger) but in Erlkönig, Schubert transforms an already scary poem by Goethe, inspired by the high infant mortality of the time, into a pinnacle of 19th century horror.
9. Concerto for Harpsichord and String Orchestra - Henryk Górecki
Gorecki's harpsichord concerto shows the solo instrument of its most heavy and spooky side. The frantic sounds rising from harpsichord and string orchestra, delivered with percussive persuasion, are like the beating of the wings of a giant bat. Perfectly suited for a living room concert in castle Transylvania.
8. Wozzeck – Alban Berg
One of the first operas I saw in the theatre was Wozzeck (more than the appeal of attending the first atonal opera in music history, it was the low price of the ticket that I was drawn to. Ahum). Not immediately an obvious starting point for one’s exploration trips in the world of opera, Alban Berg's music drama was surprisingly accessible to ears that had grown up with movie music. Music in which notes and chords don’t have to shape themselves into recognisable melodies in order to be understood and be full of expressiveness.
“Music for the Haunted House” was the first association I had with Wozzeck and although Berg's opera cannot be narrowed down to a horror story that comes with scary music, Wozzeck has lost none of its creepiness that came at first impression.
7. The House That Dripped Blood – soundtrack
“Music for the Haunted House” in a literal sense is the music score for the film The House That Dripped Blood. Music by the young deceased composer Michael Dress (he only turned 39) who also signed for the soundtracks of largely forgotten gems like The Mind of Mr. Soames and Rotten to the Core.
Atonal music had its share of hostile reception in the past and is still considered by many as elitist, inaccessible and audience-unfriendly but it found its way to the mainstream nonetheless. Paired with moving pictures, it can serve as extremely effective film music.
6. Lebendig Begraben - Othmar Schoeck
Of the music that has coalesced around lugubrious topics, Othmar Schoeck's song cycle Lebendig Begraben from 1927 should not go unmentioned. A collection of songs based on texts by Gottfried Keller. Keller's poem, Gedanken eines lebendig Begrabenen (Thoughts of One Buried Alive), written in 1846, presents the scenario of a protagonist buried alive who experiences his life's memories while resigned to his fate. Schoeck's music, a continuous forty-minute composition, mirrors this horrifc struggle with great dramatic intensity. In 1962 it was recorded with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the famous Lieder singer gives here one his most intense performances. Below you find a clip with an excerpt of the song cycle.
Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin / Fritz Rieger / Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1962)
5. God of Emptiness - Morbid Angel
The dynamics of this extremely atmospheric death metal song lies in the tension between the deep grunt of vocalist/bassist Dave Vincent, the jackhammer drumming style of Pete Sandoval and the ingenious guitar licks of Trey Azagthoth, a musician who is inspired by Mozart as well as Eddie van Halen (something that can be considered remarkable in this genre). It adds substance to the musical world of Morbid Angel and gives it an extra dark taste of the macabre.
4. Psalm 130 "Du fond de l'abîme" – Lili Boulanger
It is not uncommon for religious connotations to come with an uneasy, terrifying effect on the psyche. It is not unusual that horror conceals itself in the singing of angels. Beneath a sacred exterior awful intentions can be hidden. Behind the tones of heaven, the ravine of earthly sin often yawns. From the bottom of the abyss (Du fond de l'abîme) comes a piece in which religious expression is combined with a profound sense of discomfort (and excitement). Written a year before her untimely death at 24, Psalm 130 of Lili Boulanger conceals the soundtrack for a horror movie. A glorious world of sound, full of images. A requiem for herself it was, written with death in prospect, and we, hardly worthly of the splendor at display here, bow in awe and amazement for the way Boulanger managed to put her dark fate into music.
3. Halloween – soundtrack
The film par excellence for Halloween is the movie with that name by John Carpenter. With a soundtrack, an earwig in the league of the Jaws-leitmotif, that tells the story, in all its simplicity, almost by itself. Here it is, copy-pasted into a clip of two hours. Music in which repetition, the predictability of the next note, does not bore but takes the suspence to an uncanny, unmatched level. A musical motive that is as Michael Myers, the bogeyman, who, in the end, always comes back. One of the very few pieces of minimal music that I not only endure but leaves, in fact, an emotional mark.
2. Siegfried’s Trauermarsch (Götterdämmerung) – Richard Wagner
Of course this list must contain a piece of music from the man who gave this website its name. In Wagner's operas, possible candidates for a Halloween soundtrack can be found in Der Fliegende Holländer (the entry of Der Holländer), in Das Rheingold (the descent to Nibelheim) and Siegfried (the prelude of act 3 in which Wotan meets up with Erda). The cake, however, goes to Götterdämmerung. To the part where Siegfried is slain by Hagen and the Funeral March that follows. It is a intense piece of music that bears in it the prediction of the end of the world as we know it. It is richly variegated and is of a terrifying beauty that never fails to fascinate and move. The indefinable and the impenetrable of its aesthetics send a shiver down the spine. A chill to the bones with which the piece claims its place in this top 10. (See for the context of this clip of Siegfrieds Trauermarsch the posts about The Steampunk Ring on this website.)
1. Ich habe deinen Mund geküßt, Jochanaan (Salome) – Richard Strauss
For the top of this Halloween top 10 Salome comes to dinner. Necrophilia served with scorching, tantalizing music. A strong stomach is needed. Herodias' daughter is performed here by Malin Byström who in looks, acting and voice, is a very impressive Salome. In this blood & gore production of Ivo van Hove, she occupies herself in the final scene not only with the head of Jochanaan but with his whole body.