The Philadelphia Orchestra is ready for Halloween! Get into the spirit with our Eerie October playlist on Spotify, specially curated by Conducting Fellow Austin Chanu. Listen to Austin’s spine-chilling selections for the season below.
“Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,” from Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz
When composing this work, Berlioz imagined the symphony as a depiction of a protagonist’s life, and it is meant to be a tone poem. In this final movement, the protagonist sees himself at a witches’ sabbath where there are monsters, ghouls, sorcerers, and witches dancing. Whenever I hear this movement, including the famous Dies irae chant, I can’t help but get goosebumps and get excited for the fall and Halloween season.
Theme from Young Frankenstein by John Morris
Young Frankenstein is one of my all-time favorite movies. I’m a huge fan of Mel Brooks, and the cast is hilarious. It’s one of those movies I watch every Halloween season. The score, by John Morris, fits the eeriness as well as the parody aspects of the film and is fantastic music to listen to. In the movie, this theme sets Frankenstein’s monster into a trance and entices the monster to return home. When I found this recording of Gil Shaham performing the work, I knew I had to include it on the list!
The Goblin and the Mosquitoby Florence Price
I stumbled upon this piece quite recently, and I’m so excited to be able to share it with you. Currently, The Philadelphia Orchestra is in the middle of an exploration of Florence Price’s music, so I wanted to include her on my list. This work reminds me of a salon-style showpiece or even a short work she may have written for one of her piano students. The music paints such a clear visual of a goblin, who's minding his own business but is being chased and bothered by a little buzzing mosquito. Price utilizes glissandos, cluster chords, and octave leaps to paint such a clear picture for the listener.
October by Dmitri Shostakovich
October was composed in 1967 toward the end of Shostakovich’s life. This symphonic poem is an obscure work within his catalog and was composed in 1967 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. The piece begins with dark cellos and low brass creating an eerie and ominous sound world for the listener. It has a sense of underlying anxiety throughout and is a classic Shostakovich work reminiscent of many of the symphonies.
Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, arranged by Leopold Stokowski
How could I make a haunting Halloween playlist without including Stokowski’s arrangement of Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor? That opening presentation of the theme is iconic, incredibly powerful, and is associated with Dracula. With Stokowski being a former music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra, I thought it was important to include him on this list and honor the legacy he left with this incredible orchestra.
“Erlkönig” by Franz Schubert
Schubert’s “Erlkönig” sets text from the poem of the same name by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The poem itself is a horror story that depicts a young boy being chased by a supernatural being or monster known as the Erl-King or Elf-King. Schubert’s setting utilizes music that creates a sense of urgency and anxiety while emulating the chase with the piano playing repeated triplets and a fast-paced harmonic progression.
“Danza de los Diablos,” from Hilos by Gabriela Lena Frank
I wanted to include a work by Gabriela since she is our current composer-in-residence, and I knew this piece would be perfect for this Halloween playlist. The title translates to Devils' Dance. Gabriela writes: “A tribute to the devil dances of the southern Puno region of Peru, this movement features ‘stompy’ rhythms, quick dissonant grace notes, and a general boldness of spirit.”
Psycho, a suite for strings by Bernard Herrmann
In addition to Young Frankenstein, Psycho is also on my list of favorite movies for the Halloween season, which is funny because I’m not usually a big fan of scary or suspenseful movies. This score by Bernard Herrmann is also one of the reasons why I became interested in composing music when I was in high school and studied composition in college. The music captures the essence of Hitchcock’s film so perfectly and is one of the most iconic and frightening film scores to this day. Herrmann wrote that he used only a string orchestra to create a “black and white sound” that closely mirrored the film’s contrasting black and white images.
The Isle of the Dead by Sergei Rachmaninoff
I had the honor of assisting Yannick Nézet-Séguin this past summer at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center while he conducted this piece with the Orchestra, and I instantly fell in love with the music. This symphonic poem begins with a repetitive swaying motive, reminiscent of rowing a boat, and utilizes lots of dark and brooding harmonies that always send a chill down my spine.
Black Angels by George Crumb
Black Angels is an incredible work that is written for an electric string quartet and creates new and ethereal sounds. It’s subtitled “Thirteen Images from the Dark Land” and is a piece that will set the tone for your scary season. Each of the 13 miniatures gives you different stories or characters. The movements I picked are 1, 3, 5, 6, and 7. The first movement, “Night of the Electric Insects,” is gritty and intense, while the third movement, “Lost Bells,” is an incredibly beautiful duo between violin and cello. The fifth movement, “Danse macabre,” is a grotesque and satirical dance between the violin and viola. The sixth movement, “Pavana Lachrymae (Der Tod und das Mädchen),” quotes Schubert’s “Death of the Maiden” while incorporating buzzing insect sounds. The seventh movement, “Black Angels!,” is the climax of the work and harkens back to the beginning.
Grohg by Aaron Copland
This is an underperformed and less well-known work of Copland’s and was composed between 1922 and 1924 during his years in Paris. Grohg is a one-act ballet that is an adaptation of the Dracula tale and is heavily inspired by the film Nosferatu. The ballet utilizes jazzy melodies and rhythms, classic Copland style, but also adds intense and dark harmonies to create a sense of unease.
A Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Musorgsky
Whenever I hear the opening rustling motives from the strings and the low bellows from the trombones and horns, all I can picture is Disney’s Fantasia. I loved watching the movie as a kid and this scene with Chernabog, the God of the Night, always used to scare me so much. Musorgsky’s music paints such detailed pictures and tells such a vivid story. This music sets the perfect Halloween mood.
I hope you enjoy my haunted Halloween playlist!