5 scary pieces of classical music that aren't Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
Set a spooky mood for your Halloween night with these terrifying tracks
Ever since it was featured in the soundtrack of the 1931 film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor has been the unofficial anthem of Halloween.
In fact, classical music in general has always been closely associated with the horror genre: think of Hannibal Lecter's fondness for the Goldberg Variations in The Silence of the Lambs, or of The Shining, in which the strains of Bartók fill the halls of the Overlook Hotel.
If you're looking for classical music to soundtrack your own Halloween drama, whether it's an elaborate haunted house or just the vestibule of your home where you're handing out candy, then the following five pieces should do the, um, trick.
1. Dietrich Buxtehude: Toccata in D Minor
In case you thought J.S. Bach was the boss of ominous-sounding organ toccatas in D minor, listen to Buxtehude's. It was composed before Bach's, and in fact Bach may have heard it (and been inspired to write his own?) when he visited Buxtehude in 1705. The piece has several characteristics — the improvisatory opening with its dramatic pauses, the animated pedal passages — that anticipate Bach's better-known example.
2. Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10, 2nd movement
According to Testimony, Solomon Volkov's book on Shostakovich, this hair-raising music was intended as a musical depiction of Joseph Stalin, the dreaded dictator and leader of the Soviet Union whose death inspired Shostakovich to pen his 10th symphony. To hear this relentless, violent march with its menacing military drum and screaming woodwinds is to have your worst nightmare come to life.
3. Anton Webern: 5 Movements for String Quartet, No. 5
While the composers of the Second Viennese School found formal beauty in their abstract, atonal compositions, there's also something chilling about their music's emotional detachment. Take, for example, the fifth of Webern's Five Movements for String Quartet. It sounds like pointillistic perfection in the concert hall, but move it to a haunted house with a bowl of eyeballs on the table and blood dripping down the walls, and it's the soundtrack of terror.
4. Dmitry Kabalevsky: Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 38, No. 10
Much of this haunting prelude happens in the piano's low register, begging comparison with the funeral march from Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2, John Williams' theme from Jaws, and the fate motif from Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, the latter of which Kabalevsky adapts and accentuates here with brutal dissonance. Vladimir Horowitz championed all 24 of Kabalevsky's Op. 38 Preludes, and applied devilish abandon to this one in particular.
5. Anton Bruckner: Aequalis No. 2
This piece's backstory is perhaps as scary as the music. Bruckner, himself a menacing-looking individual, composed it for the funeral of his aunt. At the time, he was living and working as an elementary school teacher at St. Florian Abbey, an Augustinian monastery in Austria with a crypt containing the remains of its dedicatee.
Bruckner scored the lugubrious piece for three trombones — alto, tenor and bass — the latter of which growls demonically.