Classical music, evoking spookiness in movies—and before the film age, too

Posted on: October 18, 2018

“Hollywood composers are responsible for no shortage of spooky original music, from Bernard Herrmann and Wojciech Kilar’s respective scores for ‘Psycho’ and ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ to John Carpenter’s … theme for ‘Halloween,’ ” writes Chris Gray in last Thursday’s (10/11) Houston Chronicle. “But … an unsettling interval … known as ‘the devil’s tritone,’ or diabolus in musica, has been haunting composers and audiences since the Middle Ages. The ‘Dies Irae,’ a medieval hymn sung in the Catholic funeral Mass, has been quoted by dozens of composers, including Verdi, Holst, Rachmaninoff and Mahler…. The introductory bars of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565) … perhaps the most instantly recognizable theme in all of classical music … left an indelible impression in ‘The Black Cat,’ (1934) when Boris Karloff … performs it on the organ…. In ‘The Exorcist,’ [George Crumb’s ‘Electric Insects’ movement from Black Angels] appears as the malevolent entity possessing Reagan McNeil [in photo]. Skittering strings quickly threaten to bring on actual physical discomfort, a dead-on musical depiction of a young girl literally crawling out of her skin.” Also cited are cinematic uses of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre, and Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.

Posted October 18, 2018