The Spookiest Piano Pieces for your Halloween Playlist

October 29, 2020

It’s that time of year again – Spooky Season! Though your shindig this year might look a little different than it has in the past, you can still set the stage with some classic music. Here are our picks for the creepiest piano and organ pieces that might send a shiver down your spine.

 

Johann Sebastian Bach | Toccata & Fugue in D Minor BWV 565

You might have heard this piece before – it was popularized in Western culture by the 1940 Disney film, Fantasia. Many mysteries surround the piece, including whether it should be attributed to Bach at all! Some say it could have been written as early as 1704, when Bach was only 18 years old; others say it could have been written after Bach’s death in the 1750s. It was popularized in the Bach Revival era of the 1830s, primarily by Felix Mendelssohn who performed the piece in concert in 1840. 

Watch a stunning performance of the piece by Leo van Doeselaar of the Netherlands Bach Society.

 

Frédéric Chopin | Piano Sonata No. 2, III. Marche funèbre (Funeral March)

The third movement of his Piano Sonata No. 2, the Marche funèbre, French for ‘Funeral March’, was written two years prior to the completion of the rest of the piece. Today it is one of Chopin’s most popular compositions, but it originally received mixed reviews from his contemporaries. Robert Schumann said that the piece was evidence that Chopin “could not quite handle sonata form”. In addition to being performed at his own funeral, Chopin’s Funeral March has been played at the state funerals of John F. Kennedy, Sir Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher, just to name a few.

Check out this performance of the Marche funèbre by Arturo B. Michelangeli.

 

Ludwig van Beethoven | Sonata quasi una fantasia, Op. 27, No. 2 (Moonlight Sonata)

Did you know that Beethoven did not come up with the nickname for this famous piece? Five years after Beethoven’s death, German music critic Ludwig Rellstab compared the sounds of the first movement to moonlight shimmering on the surface of Lake Lucerne, located in central Switzerland. It then began being widely called the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ in German and English publications of the piece.

You can hear this piece performed live during Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s November 8 live stream concert. Get your tickets here.

 

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky | Children’s Album, Op. 39, TH 141 – 20. The Sorcerer

The scariest part about this piece might be that it was written to be performed by children! Tchaikovsky was inspired by the story of Baba Yaga, a character in Slavic folklore, to create this work, which is one of 24 pieces included in Children’s Album. Baba Yaga appears as an old woman who lives in a house standing on large chicken legs .  She both helps and hinders those who come across her, depending on which of the thousands of stories about her that you hear.

Hear the piece performed by Ukranian pianist Valentina Lisitsa.

 

Franz Schubert | Erlkönig, D. 328

Schubert’s Lied, composed for solo voice and piano in 1815, features the 1782 poem by the same name written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. ‘The Elf King’ is a tale told by four different characters, placed in different vocal ranges by Schubert to signal the shift between them. The boy lies in the highest range, the narrator in the middle, the father in the lowest, while the elf king moves up and down the ranges through arpeggios. The fifth character, the horse, is played by the piano.

Watch this stunning portrayal of the piece, created for the 2014 Oxford Lieder Festival in England.


Sergei Rachmaninoff | Prelude in C-Sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2

Also known as the “Bells of Moscow” because of its introduction that is reminiscent to the sounds made by the Kremlin’s chimes, this piece was composed by Rachmaninoff when he was only 19 years old. It became famous after his cousin, Alexander Siloti, performed it during his tours of Western Europe and the United States. By the end of his life, Rachmaninoff had grown tired of performing the piece during his own concerts, saying “Many, many times I wish I had never written it.”

Check out this performance of the piece by Evegny Kissin at the Salle Pleyel in Paris.

Lowell Liebermann | Gargoyles Op. 29

Meant to personify cathedral gargoyles, Liebermann’s piece combines both the grotesque nature of their faces and the humorous expressions they often portray. It was commissioned by the Tcherepnin Society, a non-profit dedicated to continuing the legacy of composers Nikolai, Alexander, and Ivan Tcherepnin.

Watch the performance of this piece by Tiffany Poon during our own 2019 Gilmore Rising Stars Series!

 

We wish you and yours a safe and happy Halloween!

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