Six Pieces for Halloween

Classical music has long been a magnet for the spooky and mysterious. From orchestral works to songs, there’s no shortage of pieces that either sound frightening or have some sort of bizarre or sinister backstory associated with them. So, to celebrate the month of October, here are six pieces to spark the imagination and send shivers up your spine:

Listen with the lights off… if you dare!

1. Carlo Gesualdo: “Moro, lasso, al mio duolo” (1611)

The life of the Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo is similar in many ways to that of a character from a horror film. First off, in terms of his music, many of Gesualdo’s pieces make ample use of dissonance and other “crunchy” harmonies. Although this doesn’t seem too odd on the surface, some of these harmonies wouldn’t be widely used until the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries, which gives Gesualdo’s music an eerily modern feel for the time period in which they were written. Regardless, his use of dissonant harmonies in this particular madrigal (the title of which translates to, “I die, alas, in my suffering”) fits the poem’s theme of longing and emotional agony quite effectively.

Oh, and it just so happens that Gesualdo was also a murderer! One night in 1590, Gesualdo returned to his home in Naples to discover his wife in bed with another man. Furious, he flew into a rage and killed both of them in cold blood. And if this isn’t shocking enough, it turns out that after a thorough investigation, Gesualdo was eventually acquitted. (He was born to a well-off family and held some noble titles, so it clearly must have paid off to know the right people!) Today, Gesualdo has become one of the most infamous figures in music history, both for his stunningly original music and strange biography.

(For those who are interested in reading more about this fascinating figure – and for more grisly details – the music critic Alex Ross wrote a great article about Gesualdo for The New Yorker in 2011, which you can read here.)

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From the Silver Screen to Symphony Hall: Concert Works by Film Composers

This post is the first of an occasional series called Hidden Gems, in which I will bring to light some lesser known/under-appreciated works in the classical repertoire. It is partially inspired by Timothy Mangan’s “Neglected Symphonies” series.

It’s probably fair to say that film scores are one of the most widely heard forms of classical music today. Of course, to call a film score “classical” in the first place has been the subject of much debate over the years (maybe I’ll add my two cents to this discussion at some point) but regardless, one can’t deny the enormous presence that movie music holds in popular culture. (Just ask any random person on the street to sing the main theme from Star Wars and more likely than not, they’ll probably be able to do so!)

Admit it, the Star Wars theme is now stuck in your head! 😉

However, what average moviegoers don’t often realize is that a number of beloved film composers have also written music for the concert hall, totally absent from the medium of film. Many of these works vary greatly in style and form, with some departing completely from the composer’s “cinematic sound.” Even so, mostly all of them tend to be less familiar to listeners than their film score counterparts.

Let’s explore a few and bring some to light…

Continue reading “From the Silver Screen to Symphony Hall: Concert Works by Film Composers”