The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music poll: What is the best music for Halloween? | October 31, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Halloween.

It’s time to get out the costumes and candy.

But what haunted house also doesn’t use scary music?

The Halloween “holiday” is indeed as sonic as well as visual event.

So, here is a poll: What do you think of as the most fitting classic music for celebrating Halloweeen?

What would be good Halloween music to listen to – or even to play as trick-or-treaters come to your door?

First: You can test your knowledge of spooky music at NPR’sDeceptive Cadence” blog, which has a Halloween snippets quiz:

Or second: You can simply let me and others know what you think is a good candidate for Halloween music.

Here are some warm-up ideas:

Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” is great for mood, but a cliché from TV shows with horror movies.

The nightmare section “March to the Scaffold” of Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique” is also overused.

J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for organ is no stranger to spook night.

What about Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill” sonata?

Ravel’s gallows in “Le Gibet” from ”Gaspard de la Nuit,” or even the final hobgoblin section “Scarbo” can be effective?

Verdi’s opera “Un ballo en maschera” (A Masked Ball) pays homage to costumes and does Debussy’s “Suite bergamasque”? But don’t they sound too innocent.

Johann Strauss’ “Fledermaus” (The Bat) gives us an homage to the form Dracula took when no human and undead, but isn’t a bit light-hearted more than scary?

Liszt’s devilishly difficult “Mephisto Waltz” (below) strikes the right one and is evocative as is Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from “Peer Gynt”

Scriabin’s “Black mass” Sonata for piano?

Rachmaninoff’s “Isle of the Dead” is quite ghoulish, used to good effect for vampires. Or the “Daes Israe” (Day of Wrath) section of the Paganini variations?

Schubert’s evolution of fright and fear, with repeated piano chords, in “Erlkonig” (The Elf King) is a terrific piece of Halloween music both in sound and story? The piano part can also be pretty terrifying for pianists.

Out of season but how about the scary sacrificial percussion and unrelenting rhythms in Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”?

I’m sure there are some pieces by Paganini (below, in a painting as a devil), who was said to have made  Devil’s Pact for his breathtaking virtuosity and who fostered that myth by using ashes to make his face ghostly pale?

Let’s see what Wisconsin Public Radio hosts come up with. They are an inventive and imaginative lot.

Anyway, let us know what you think is good classical music to play or listen to for Halloween.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music


  1. Very nice list of scary titles, but some important ones are missing like On The Hall of the Mountain King and many others from the classical repertoire.

    Here is a list of more classical titles, included in Halloween Sheet Music collections:

    Comment by Fabrizio Ferrari — October 19, 2016 @ 8:07 am

  2. […] Source: Classical song poll: What is a most appropriate song for Halloween? […]

    Pingback by What is the best music for Halloween? | 7 Top M Download — November 1, 2010 @ 11:25 am

  3. How about the excerpt (Kyrie?) from Gyorgy Lygeti’s Requiem – the encounter with the monolith scene from “2001: A Space Odyssey”?

    Comment by Marius — October 31, 2010 @ 8:10 am

    • Marius,
      Ooooh! That will do very well.
      Very atmospheric and eerie, even spooky — while also poetic.
      Outstanding choice.
      Thanks for the suggestion and link.

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 31, 2010 @ 8:30 am

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