- Karol Szymanowski, Symphony 3, “Song of the Night.” This piece by an (unfortunately) often overlooked composer evokes a sense of mystery and the supernatural with its haunting vocals. With this beautifully chilling piece, it’s not difficult to picture ghosts and spirits floating about.
- Modest Mussorgsky, Night on Bald Mountain. This is a must have in any collection of classical music for Halloween. A musical rendition of a work by the Russian author Gogol, it creates images of witches gathering to conduct their rituals in the dead of night. [i]
- Camille Saint-Saëns, Danse Macabre. Another spooky classic. This piece is also inspired by a piece of literature, a poem by Henri Cazalis.[ii]It tells the story of skeletons rising from their graves at midnight to dance to a tune played by Death on his violin.
- John Barnes Chance, Incantation and Dance. This relatively simple and energetic piece is too often forgotten. As with Mussorgsky’s piece, it evokes images of witches dancing around their pot of brew. This work, however, has a sense of primal energy lacking in the Russian composer’s piece.
- Gregorian chant. There’s no need to be specific here. Virtually any work will serve to create a sense of medieval mystery, of ancient castles, and of ghosts from long past. A particularly nice one is Dies Iraewhich is Latin for The Day of Wrath.
- J.S. Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor. This work is perhaps the epitome of classical Halloween music. Many cannot disassociate the music from images of Dracula and Transylvanian castles. This piece is sure hit for any haunted house.
- Hector Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique, Mvt. V, “Dream of a Witch’s Sabbath.” Another bewitching work on the subject of witches. However, don’t think just because you’ve heard one witch’s sabbath you’ve heard them all. The tone of this work, though equally haunting, is quite different and goes very well with the other witchy works.
- Igor Stravinsky, Firebird Suite, “Infernal Dance.” From a piece about a mythical and magical bird, this work has an incredible intensity and energy.[iii]This work brings to mind ghosts and demons dancing in a frenzied state just as the sun sets.
- Silvestre Revueltas, Sensemayá. While this work is not well known, it is perhaps the most interesting one on this list. It is an orchestral arrangement based on a poem by Nicolás Guillén.[iv]It’s a musical illustration of an Afro-Caribbean chant similar to those used in Voodoo. The magical intensity of the piece makes it a good one for your own haunted house pseudo-Voodoo.
- Béla Bartók, Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, Mvt. III. This final piece, to come full circle, also evokes feelings of the night and of mystery. It’s a quiet and calm piece, but in an eerie sort of way. Perfect background music for a Halloween fright.