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Halloween       Back to Musical Occasions

It’s Halloween again. At this time of year, everybody seems to have spooks and ghouls on their mind, so we put together a collection of music inspired by monsters, ghosts, witches and magic.



One of the first pieces of music that springs to mind whenever witches are mentioned is the Witches’ Sabbath from Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique. Berlioz paints a musical picture of a dream in which he is surrounded by grotesque witches and spirits, dancing away the Sabbath.

Songe d'une Nuit du Sabbat     Listen 

Halloween Fact 1

Halloween is the eve of the traditional Celtic New Year. Celts believed that on this night, disembodied spirits would prowl the land looking for bodies to possess. In an attempt to dissuade them, the Celts would dress up in ghoulish costumes and parade the streets making a lot of noise.

Paul Dukas wrote The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in 1897, although what really made it famous is the 1940 animated Disney epic, Fantasia. The piece is based on a poem by Goethe, in which the apprentice tries out a spell while his master is away only for it to go hopelessly wrong.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice            Listen

Halloween Fact 2

When the Romans invaded Britain, they adopted many Celtic traditions as their own, or combined them with traditional Roman celebrations. The festival of Pomona, Roman God of fruit and trees, takes place in October. Apple-bobbing, anyone?

Another sordid Sabbath, Modest Mussorgsky’s A Night on the Bare Mountain has orginially intended for an opera called The Witches. The piece now stands as a concert work in its own right as one of the most vivid depictions of evil spirits and stormy weather in the classical repertoire.

A Night on the Bare Mountain         Listen

Halloween Fact 3

The not-so-famous Turnip Lantern originated in Ireland. It was only when immigrants fleeing the potato famine settled in America that the pumpkin became the fruit of choice – turnips were rather thin on the ground in the New World.

Mussorgsky wrote quite a lot of scary music. His Pictures at an Exhibition was written in memory of his friend, the artist Victor Hartmann. Each of the 11 pictures is a musical reaction to one of Hartmann’s paintings. Each movement is connected by a short promenade – the viewer walking from picture in the gallery to the next. It was written for the piano, but Ravel’s scoring for full orchestra has become just as popular, if not more.

Gnomus          Listen

The Hut of Baba-Yaga           Listen

Halloween Fact 4

The term Halloween has its roots in the Catholic Church. All Hallows Eve is the night before All Souls Day (Nov. 1), when Catholics celebrate the memory of their Saints. By happy coincidence, this was the same day as the Pagan New Year.

In 1874, Edvard Grieg was asked by Ibsen to provide some incidental music for his play, Peer Gynt. As the audience hear In the Hall of the Mountain King, Gynt is entering the mountain palace of the King of the Trolls. A brilliantly grotesque dance, this section of the music is entirely based on one tune which makes its way around the orchestra, getting louder and faster as it goes.

In The Hall of the Mountain King          Listen

Halloween Fact 5

Trick-or-treating (or “demanding goods with menaces” as it is known when adults do it) has also grown out of an old Celtic tradition. Early Christians would walk between villages, promising to say prayers for peoples deceased relatives in return for “soul cakes”, a kind of flat, square currant bun.

If you like the music you’ve heard here, you can listen  to the whole playlist