On Air Now
Smooth Classics with Margherita Taylor 10pm - 1am
Why does some classical music scare us? Is it loud noises, creepy sounds, or the terrifying stories music can tell? Find out which composers and pieces make us quiver with fear...
Grieg's masterpiece of tension-building was supposed to evoke a cave full of trolls, gnomes and goblins. Grieg himself wasn't a huge fan, though: "For the Hall of the Mountain King I have written something that so reeks of cowpats, ultra-Norwegianism, and 'to-thyself-be-enough-ness' that I can't bear to hear it, though I hope that the irony will make itself felt."
As the title suggests, this dark little dance has everything required to give the listener the willies. The piece tells the story of Death (a violinist, naturally) making the dead rise from their graves on Halloween and dance to his sinister tune.
It doesn't seem logical that just two notes could cause such a sense of foreboding, but John Williams managed it. His soundtrack to Spielberg's Jaws has been keeping people out of the sea since 1975.
Beginning life as a tone poem called St. John's Night on the bare Mountain, Mussorgsky's most famous work was made more famous when it was revised by Rimsky-Korsakov, and then included in the soundtrack from Disney's Fantasia. Whatever incarnation it's in, it's a frightening masterpiece.
This one is perhaps more spooky and supernatural than outright scary, but nevertheless, Maurice Jarre's score for 'Ghost' is still worth a listen.
Berlioz uses a range of orchestral effects to create the scene of a gathering of witches - violins using the backs of their bows to create bubbling cauldron sounds, the sound of a funeral bell and outbursts of musical laughter.
So, you stop at a motel, fancy a shower and the next thing you know a madman in a wig is trying to attack you. What do you think that might sound like? Well, Bernard Herrmann knows, and he shows us in the soundtrack to Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho'.
This is one of the biggies when it comes to scary music. It's been used in classic horror films like 'The Black Cat', 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', and even in 'Doctor Who'.
The Twilight Zone now seems like an old-fashioned spook-fest, but when it came to scoring the 1982 film version of the popular TV show, Jerry Goldsmith stepped in to make it as scary as he could.
When it comes to pure fury, few can rival Carl Orff. The stately opening of 'O Fortuna' from 'Carmina Burana' is soon replaced by some intense, pulsing choral work, which basically erupts into a full-on orchestral blaze.
Another classic thanks to the influence of a certain Walt Disney, Dukas' impish theme will forever be associated with images of Mickey Mouse attempting to chop up an army of possessed mops.
When it comes to spine-chilling music, it's hard to beat Verdi's Dies Irae, or 'Day of Wrath'. Verdi's Requiem is an epic achievement in every sense, but this depiction of the day of judgement is pretty unsettling stuff. Turn it up loud.
It's probably safe to say that being dragged into the depths of hell is a scary situation. But few could make it sound as terrifying as Mozart manages to in Don Giovanni. Listen to the booming bass of the Commendatore as he announces his arrival. Yikes!
There are two moments in Mahler's Symphony No. 2 (nicknamed The Resurrection) where the composer attempted to capture the terror and pain of death in one musical gesture, what has become known as the 'Death Shriek'. You can judge for yourself whether it works or not, but we advise you to sit down while you listen…
Liszt was obsessed with all things macabre and explored it frequently in his work. His 'Mephisto Waltz', Pensées des morts and 'La lugubre gondola' all flirt with the notion of death and the after life. Totentanz (Dance of the Dead) is immediately recognisable by its menacing opening discordant notes in the orchestra and piano, which paves the way for a thrilling 15 minutes of virtuosic and unearthly piano music.
Bartók was inspired to write his Sonatina in 1915 after collecting folk tunes in Romania, home to the legendary vampire stronghold, Transylvania. He named the suites the Transylvanian Dances when he arranged them for orchestra.
It's 1913, and Count Dracula arrives from Transylvania, ready to descend upon Mina Van Helsing and drink her blood. Horror, intrigue and suspense – so who better to compose the film's soundtrack than movie music genius, John Williams?
A plaintive oboe and gloomy clarinets depict the sounds of the oars of Charon cutting through the waters of the river Styx in the solemn opening phrases of Rachmaninov’s symphonic poem. The music transports our immortal souls to the edge of the underworld in this spooky piece.
An adaptation of the Dracula tale, and inspired by the film Nosferatu, Copland completed Grohg around 1925. The music uses jazzy syncopations and cheery melodies with sinister undertones to add to the feel of unease. Copland used this ballet as inspiration for his later Dance Symphony.
This battle-cry is actually quite a triumphant event in the original staging of Wagner's Ring Cycle, but thanks to the piece being used to soundtrack helicopters flying through war-torn Vietnam in Francis Ford Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now', it's safe to say that this is officially a scary piece.