Wednesday, 31 October 2018



Let's pick up where we left off..


Chill-seekers searching for over the top, multi-media terror need look no further than Belgian composer Stefan Prins' "Generation Kill." You might want to dust off the old projector screen and let this video roll. Composed in 2012 in dedication to the Nadar Ensemble, Prins' "Kill" is as horrifying to watch as it is hear. This avant-garde production calls for "percussion, e-guitar, violin, violoncello, 4 musicians with game controllers, live-electronics & live-video," leading to an eerie cacophony of bizarre audio and visual effects that appear as though they were sliced straight out of a horror film. 

What is truly eerie about this piece lay in it's underlying theme: who is running the show? Those at the control deck? The musicians themselves? Are they performing live, or are they hollow shells, previously filmed in an unknown, discreet location? Prins intentionally left the answers to these questions lurking within the dark abyss of ambiguity.


Hungarian-Austrian composer György Ligeti's "Volumina" for organ opens with a blood-curdling behemoth of dissonant tones that could make even Beelzebub's blood boil.

The devilishly dynamic cluster of sound is produced by the forearms of the organist, which Ligeti instructs must lay across an entire manual, with all of the instrument's stops pulled out. This shocking work initially proved too horrific even for the organ itself: whilst practicing the piece on Sweden's Göteborg organ in 1962, the over-strained instrument caught fire, leading to a cancellation of the work's scheduled premiere (once the church council at Bremen - where the live performance was scheduled to take place - caught wind of the organ's curious self-immolation.) Volumina would not hold its debut until the Spring of that year, and even then, only in the form of a pre-taped recording of a live performance.


20th century Swiss composer and Les Six member Arthur Honegger's brutally bombastic Dies Irae (extracted from his 3rd Symphony, "Liturgique,") may take it's name from the Latin Mass for the Dead, but it is far from hymn-like in sound: Honegger composed the work immediately following the culmination of World War II. Brash horns and aggressive strings mimic the weaponry, the bloodshed and the all-around horrors of the war.


German composer Bernd Alois Zimmerman's deeply disturbing oratorio Requiem for a Young Poet centers around death - both suicidal and homicidal. It's underlying theme is self-inflicted human destruction on a cataclysmic course toward Armageddon, drawing it's inspiration from real-life events. Truly, there is nothing more horrific.

Written over the course of two years - this extended composition is scored for two speakers, soprano and baritone soloists, three choirs, jazz band, organ, tapes and a large orchestra. It also bears a the distinction of a Subtitled Lingual (speech work), drawing on liturgical, literary, philosophical, religious and political texts, including, but not limited to, readings from the Latin Mass for the Dead, and quotations elicited from the writings left behind by suicide victims (notably the Russian-Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, Austrian poet Konrad Bayer and the poet Sergei Yesenin of Russia.) More disturbingly, Zimmermann feeds into the frenzied din pre-recorded speeches of infamously brutal dictators and their henchmen, including Hitler, Goebbels, and Stalin (Pope John XXIII also makes an appearance to provide contrast.)

Music of other composers are also quoted, from the Beatles "Hey Jude" to the controversial Richard Wagner "Liebestod."

Make no mistake, dear reader, this recording is one to be studied. I am including it on this list for those listeners seeking thought-provoking compositions this Halloween. Requiem for a Young Poet is by all accounts disconcerting.

Dresden conductor Michael Gielen premiered Zimmerman's shocking oratorio at Düsseldorf in 1969. The composer would perish by his own hand, committing suicide nearly one year later.

Learn more about this piece here.


This creepy composition comes to us from the Nordic countries. Helsinki-born Moses Pergament may hail from the frigid land of ice and snow, but this fantasie for violin and orchestra burns slow and hot like an unquenchable hellfire.

Based on the ominous "Dybbuk box" of Jewish folklore, Pergament's treatment of the much feared fable is but the first of two entries in this year's hellish hell-o-ween countdown to portray the
tale of the Dybbuk - a diabolical spectre who inhabits an aged wine box, restlessly awaiting its release into the mortal world through the actions of its latest unsuspecting victim. Once the box is opened, the malicious spirit flies out to possess its latest human host.

Curiosity presents itself with a brief interlude of stillness as represented by soothing strings - but don't get too comfortable! It is merely a fleeting interlude - a calm before a thunderous storm.


Making her second appearance on 2018's Hellish Hell-oween Countdown is a piece by Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya: Piano sonata no 6. This absolutely brutal work makes Franz Liszt's terrifying Totentanz (featured in Unraveling Musical Myths' 2016 Halloween countdown) feel like a walk in the park.

Considered by critics to be her most violent work, this 1988 sonata earns it's devilish distinction from its prolific use of cluster chords -  ffff clusters to be exact - a fitting choice for a composer seeking to evoke the inhumane conditions suffered by many in the former USSR. Musicologist  Maria Cizmic has described the implementation of the clusters thusly:

"It opens up a performance place in which a pianist feels pain, foregrounding the concrete bodily acts and sensations of suffering at a time when the violence of the USSR’s past continued to be contested."


Laying somewhere between the ilk of Bach and those who came to rock is Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera's Toccata, from his Toccata, Villancio, y Fuga for organ.

Toccata has been described by an organist recording Ginastera's work as a  

"single grand and violent impulse, with no time to catch its breath, like a dance to try and escape from death."


19th century Parisian composer Charles Valentin Alkan's Chanson de la folle au bord de la mer (Song of the Mad Woman by the Sea - the eighth of the 25 Préludes dans tous les tons majeurs, Op. 31) ventures into the bleakest corners human psyche. Appropriately designated a minor key (A flat minor), the aching, drone-like exposé into the Dissociative Disorder of Alkan's "mad woman" on the sea is every bit as unnerving and eerily enigmatic as the still misunderstood, seemingly simplistic (yet altogether complex) mental disconnect experienced by its sufferers. Alkan's stylistic approach to Song of the Mad Woman is incredibly erudite - much like the mental disorder, it's theme is  regurgitative. A monotonous stillness is quickly replaced by frenzied, brash outbursts symbolic of a psychotic break, followed by shivering exhaustion imbued by the loss of self control, followed once more by a paralytic, unnerving mental escape into another world. 


German icon of the baroque Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor has become synonymous with Halloween, and with good reason. It is viciously voluminous, ominous, and overbearing.

In the early 20th century, English conductor Leopold Stokowski arranged the famously feared organ work for full orchestra, which if I may say, just might rival the original in terms of eliciting from its victims a deafening wave of sheer terror.


This wickedly wizardly symphonic poem has been frightening children and adults alike since Disney first reintroduced it to the greater public in the cult classic Fantasia in 1940.

French composer and critic Paul Abraham Dukas penned this classically chilling piece in 1897 in homage to famed German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's 1797 poem of the same name. Black magic is abounds in both music and poem: it's safe to say Goethe's spooky stanzas speak for themselves:

Gone's for once the old magician
With his countenance forbidding;
I 'm now master,
I 'm tactician,
All his ghosts must do my bidding.
Know his incantation,
Spell and gestures too;
By my mind's creation
Wonders shall I do.

Flood impassive
With persistence
From a distance
Want I rushing
And at last abundant, massive
Here into my basin gushing

Come, old broom!
For work get ready,
Dress yourself, put on your tatters
You 're, I know, a servant steady
And proficient in such matters.
On two legs stand gravely,
Have a head, besides,
With your pail now bravely
Off, and do take strides!

Flood impassive
With persistence
From a distance
Want I rushing
And at last abundant, massive
Here into my basin gushing

Like a whirlwind he is going
To the stream, and then in
Like an engine he is throwing
Water for my use; with flurry
Do I watch the steady;
Not a drop is spilled,
Basin, bowls already
Are with water filled.

Fool unwitty,
Stop your going!
Are the dishes.
I forgot the charm; what pity!
Now my words are empty

For the magic charm undoing
What I did,
I have forgotten.
Be a broom!
Be not renewing
Now your efforts, spell-begotten!
Still his work abhorrent
Does the wretch resume;
Where I look a torrent
Threatens me with doom.

No, no longer
Shall I suffer
You to offer
Bold defiance.
I have brains,
I am the stronger
And I shall enforce compliance

You, hell's miscreate abortion,
Is this house doomed to perdition?
Signs I see in every portion
Of impending demolition.
Servant, cursed and senseless,
Do obey my will!
Be a broom defenseless,
Be a stick!
Stand still!

Not impurely
Shall you ravage.
Wait! you savage,
I'll beset you,
With my hatchet opportunely
Shall I split your wood, I bet

There he comes again with water! -
How my soul for murder itclies!
First I stun and then I slaughter,
That is good for beasts and witches.
Well! he 's gone! - and broken
Is the stick in two.
He 's not worth a token;
Now I hope, I do!

Woe! It is so.
Both the broken
Parts betoken
One infernal
Servant's doubling.
Woe! It is so.
Now do help me, powers eternal!

Both are running, both are plodding
And with still increased persistence
Hall and work-shop they are flooding.
Master, come to my assistance! -
Wrong I was in calling
Spirits, I avow,
For I find them galling,
Cannot rule them now.

"Be obedient
Broom, be hiding
And subsiding!
None should ever
But the master, when expedient,
Call you as a ghostly lever!"

1779, translation by Paul Dyrsen, 1878

- Rose. 

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