It's the time of year for black cats, goblins, candy, skimpy costumes, and of course, Modest Mussorgsky. Halloween seems to come around too soon every year for me, as my costumes are part together at the very last minute, but they are often times successful. As much as we all love to be with friends and put forth fake personas on this witchy holiday, it's also a good time for a few composers. Over the years our cultures have adopted a few select pieces as being very scary, mystical, and appropriate for Halloween, all in the name of fun. To our ears they fit perfectly, but I can't help but to wonder what these composers would think about the way we appreciate their music on a yearly basis.
Night on a Bare Mountain is probably one of Mussorgsky's better known works amongst people who don't make it a point to listen to classical music regularly. If you, by chance, have no idea what piece I'm talking about, here's a clip:
Gerald Abraham, noted English musicologist and former president of the Royal Musical Association, is quoted as saying that "No work of Mussorgsky's has had a more confused history and none is less known."This piece exists in a fw different versions, but the most common is an arrangement by composer Rimsky-Korsakov. Today, the tone poem is a genre of classical music that isn't very new or innovative, but this work was one of Russia's first tone poems by a Russian composer, written after a witches' sabbath. Wait...witches' sabbath? I guess Mussorgsky knew what he was doing.
There are many other famous classical works used for Halloween, and many of their histories aren't seeded in anything scary or evil at all. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is one of these "scary" pieces of music (especially if you're performing the Wind Ensemble orchestration):
Despite this piece only being believed to have been written by Bach, it's still probably the most famous work in the organ repertory. Bach was a composer who was most concerned with the constructs of music, as opposed to its emotional influence or what it referenced, so I think its safe to say that he didn't think of this work as scary, or even Halloween appropriate. He definitely, unlike Mussorgsky, didn't write this after the idea of a witches' sabbath.
If anyone knows that "girls just wanna have fun" it's me, and you may not have the time to sit down and listen to Mussorgsky and Bach, but when you're out and about this weekend all dressed up celebrating all of the evil spirits of the fall and partaking of various adult "candies", take just a moment to think about the classical music that helps to promote this time of year - I know that me and all of the other school girls will!
Listening to: Thriller, Michael Jackson