Sunday, 23 October 2016


It’s time again for another installment of creepy classical music: 13 Frightening works* selected by Unraveling Musical Myths that are guaranteed to set the spine a-shiver this All Hallow’s Eve in a segment I am calling


*Note from the Author: In the interest of quicker loading times (and due to an injured hand that really should be resting!) I have opted to divide this post into two parts. Part II to follow shortly.


I. MASKED BALL – Jocelyn Pook:

This chilling number written by modern film composer Jocelyn Pook brought the unconventional musician to prominence when it was featured in Stanley Kubrick's 1999 drama, Eyes Wide Shut. It's haunting blend of strings (Pook herself appears on viola) and a seemingly incomprehensible, Satanic-sounding chant is made even more disturbing to the listener when he one realizes what they are actually hearing is a fragment of Orthodox Liturgy  - detailing "God's" instructions to his "apprentices" to pray to the Deity for the "peace, salvation...and forgiveness" of mankind's manifold sins, sung by Romanian monks in reverse - strongly suggesting the fall of Babel, and the salvageable man - forever lost in translation as he succumbs to his eternal and convoluted perversions.

This sinister gem is sure to become your next guilty pleasure:

II. LUX AETERNA – György Ligeti:

This headache-inducing number by Hungarian composer György Ligeti (who, in a coincidence quite fitting for the Halloween season, happened to have born in Transylvania) is spectacularly spooky thanks in part to it's unique strangeness: the work emphasizes timbre over harmonic fluctuation, leaving the listener in a semi-hypnotic state (a feeling not unlike when one listens to "binaural beat" videos made popular by YouTube). It's text is borrowed from the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead, in particular the Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine, which requests of the Lord eternal rest for the recently departed.

III. MALO – TURN OF THE SCREW – Benjamin Britten:

Britten's unsettling 1954 opera based on Henry James' novella of the same name published in the late nineteenth century is as debauched in it's context as it is in it's composition. Especially disturbing is the treble aria "Malo" that appears in the opera's first act: whilst engaged in a lesson in Latin with his doting Governess, the young pupil Miles seems suddenly to mentally disappear, singing a peculiar song in his trance-like state that boasts some very worrysome lyrics. His Governess is horrified by the shift in the child - she suspects he may be the silent victim of a local pedarest and peeping tom.

IV. GNOSSIENNE NO. I – Erik Satie:

French composer and pianist Erik Satie was well noted even his time for pushing the avant-garde to the front lines of mainstream classical music, and was known for his eccentricities.  Over the course of his musical career, the one time military man created a wealth of unusual - yet strangely beautiful - original pieces. So original, in, fact, the composer coined the term "Gnossienne" and applied it to his compositions (to date, no one is certain what it really means). His personal life reflected his unique take on mainstream music: his previously mentioned military career?...that was derailed seemingly before it started - when the 20 year-old musician deliberately infected himself with bronchitis!

Listen to the peculiar Gnossienne (no. I) below.


20th century Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, a known triskaidekaphobic (one who fears the number 13), put to good use his intense fear of the numeric throughout his incredibly psychotic melodrama Pierrot Lunaire: "each poem consists of 13 lines (two four-line verses followed by a five-line verse), while the first line of each poem occurs three times (being repeated as lines seven and 13)." [1]  The bizarre work would later be labeled "degenerate music" by the Nazis during the second world war, alongside the composers' entire oeuvre (Schoenberg was Jewish - although he had been temporarily a Christian convert, he would later convert back to Judaism before fleeing to the United States in 1933).  Schoenberg, who possessed an unyielding, obsessive fear that he would die on a day sharing the dreaded number 13[2] - would perish on Friday the 13th of July, 1951 - just minutes shy of midnight.

Could Pierrot Lunaire have been a bad omen for the composer?

VI. MORO LASSO – Carlo Gesualdo:

Readers of Unraveling Musical Myths will undoubtedly be familiar with the horrifying exploits of our next composer, the so-called "Prince of Darkness," murderer-prince (and 16th/17th century composer) Carlo Gesualdo. If you are new to my blog - welcome - you will want to check out my exposé on this magnificently debauched ruler here: MURDERERS & SANCTIONED KILLERS - CARLO GESUALDO.

Strange dissonances and peculiar harmonic tensions inject themselves into the regularly scheduled musical programme of late Renaissance Italy with the incredibly sinister sounding Moro Lasso:


Check back soon for PART II of this series - featuring BONUS content!

 In the interim, to read more content like this, peruse the links below:
[1]Source (quote): Wikipedia
[2]Schoenberg in fact feared he would perish in a year with a multiple of 13. It was only after visiting a psychic upon his 76th birthday that the composer realized he would perish on a day numbered 13: the 'astrologer' had informed him of a sinister, 'hidden 13' previously unknown to the composer - in his age: 7+6=13. The wary composer is said to have hastened his own death, laying in bed, paralyzed and ill with fright on the very day he perished. Spooky!)


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