Creepy Classical Music

It’s almost Halloween! I’m not usually one to celebrate this particular holiday, but I thought it would be fun to look at some creepy classical music in today’s post.

Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Bach

This fun little organ piece (okay, this hugely enormous organ piece) is believed to have been written by Bach (1685-1750) sometime in the early 1730s. Arguably the most famous work for organ ever written, Toccata and Fugue in D minor has been used in various horror films (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1931, The Black Cat in 1934, The Phantom of the Opera in 1962, etc.) and other pop culture aspects in regards to Halloween. The ominous drama, crunchy bass, and rapid runs create a sense of fear and terror.

L’escalier du diable (“The Devil’s Staircase”) by György Ligeti

Hungarian composer György Ligeti (1923-2006) wrote a cycle of 18 études (a short work written to focus on a specific technical aspect or musical skill – scales, arpeggios, etc.) for piano in the later half of his life. In “The Devil’s Staircase”, he creates a world of disjointed (yet somehow organized) chaos. It reminds me of those optical illusions where the stairs never end!

Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns

In 1874, French composer Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) wrote the tone poem Danse Macabre (literally translates to “Dance of Death”) based on the legend that “Death” appears at midnight every year on Halloween and calls the dead out from their graves to dance while he plays his fiddle (the solo violin in the music). Saint-Saëns wrote Danse Macabre shortly after his marriage ended in divorce, which was one of the darkest times of his life.

The Banshee by Henry Cowell

Hold onto your hats because this work is going to either awe or scare the heck out of you (music starts at 1:10):

Known for his inventiveness and musical explorations, Cowell (1897-1965) wrote The Banshee to be played inside the piano. Literally. The performer does not push down any keys. Instead, this piece is played by moving the hands along the strings inside the piano. Each movement is carefully notated to create a specific sound. And to top it off, a banshee is a female spirit who wails outside of a home when someone inside is about to die. Was Cowell successful at recreating that idea?

Here’s a live performance:

What other creepy classical pieces would you add to this list?

Bach toccata in d minor organ
The organ has been used to portray evil and scary characters in pop culture due to its huge, harsh, and open sound.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Dennis says:

    Excellent selections. Maybe off left field for this list but somehow I’ve always associated Mozart’s Lacrimosa as a haunting music with the misery of unfortunate and slow death written all over it; soft waltz of death that starts every so softly which then gradually takes you deeper into the abyss of sorrow. Maybe it’s just me.


    1. What a wonderful and haunting piece! I can definitely see how it would fit on this list.


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