13 Pieces of Classical Music for Halloween

Happy Halloween! There are many great pieces of classical music that go perfectly with this spooky holiday. Whether they are inspired by ghosts, goblins, witches or other things that go bump in the night, these pieces are sure to put you in the mood for tricks and treats!

Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns

In this creepy classic, the violinist represents the figure of death, though Saint-Saëns’ grim reaper has a fair dose of Gallic suavité.

The Isle of the Dead by Sergei Rachmaninoff

Inspired by Arnold Böcklin’s mysterious paintings, this piece (like many others on this list) is based on the Dies Irae, the traditional Catholic chant for the dead.

In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg

Perhaps Grieg’s most famous piece, this hair-raising number is from the Norwegian composer’s incidental music to Henryk Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt. In this scene, the not-so-heroic Peer Gynt is in the hall of the troll mountain king surrounded by trolls who wish to kill him. Yikes!

The “Devil’s Trill” Sonata by Giuseppe Tartini

Here’s what Tartini had to say about this piece, his most famous composition:

“One night, in the year 1713 I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I wished: my new servant anticipated my every desire. Among other things, I gave him my violin to see if he could play. How great was my astonishment on hearing a sonata so wonderful and so beautiful, played with such great art and intelligence, as I had never even conceived in my boldest flights of fantasy. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted: my breath failed me, and – I awoke. I immediately grasped my violin in order to retain, in part at least, the impression of my dream. In vain! The music which I at this time composed is indeed the best that I ever wrote, and I still call it the “Devil’s Trill”, but the difference between it and that which so moved me is so great that I would have destroyed my instrument and have said farewell to music forever if it had been possible for me to live without the enjoyment it affords me.”

Le Streghe, or “The Witches’ Dance” by Niccolò Paganini

During his life, Paganini was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his wickedly good violin skills. While this tune may be familiar to many Suzuki Method violin students, the real piece is so difficult that only the best violinists can manage it. These variations are based on a theme by Franz Xaver Süssmayr, the composer who completed Mozart’s Requiem. Incidentally, the Houston Symphony will be performing Mozart’s Requiem this November.

Piano Sonata No. 9 “Black Mass”, Op. 68 by Alexander Scriabin

While Scriabin didn’t actually give  this sonata its nickname, he did approve of it. With its intensely chromatic harmonies, it certainly sounds demonic when played by Vladimir Horowitz!

The Noon Witch by Antonín Dvořák

A mother scolds her misbehaving child with tales of the Noon Witch, who appears at midday to steal naughty children. Little does she realize the witch is real…

The Water Goblin by Antonín Dvořák

A mother warns her beautiful young daughter not to go too close to the lake, lest the amorous water goblin try to make her his bride. So much for good advice.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas

Inspired by Goethe’s eponymous poem, this bewitching tone poem was made famous in Disney’s original Fantasia.

Death and the Maiden by Franz Schubert

In this song, death confronts a young maiden and attempts to coax her into his icy embrace. This song was famously the inspiration for the Andante of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D minor.

Der Erlkönig (The Elf King) by Franz Schubert

One of Schubert’s most famous songs gets a rousing orchestral treatment from Hector Berlioz. Inspired by a poem of Goethe (that master of the macabre), it depicts a father and son galloping on horseback through the forest as the child is haunted by the voice of the evil Elf King.

Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky

While Rimsky-Korsakov’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s original material is the most famous version, the original version is even wilder. To read a famous literary version of the legend that inspired this piece, check out Gogol’s story St. John’s Eve.

Totentanz by Franz Liszt

In Liszt’s “Dance of Death,” the pianist represents the figure of death swooping down on defenseless denizens of the Middle Ages. See if you can recognize the Dies Irae in this one!

Did I miss your favorite? Post it in the comments below! Stay spooky, and Happy Halloween!

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Hans Graf Talks Ravel & Debussy

Maestro Hans Graf

Houston Symphony Conductor Laureate Hans Graf. Photo credit: Bruce Bennett

This weekend, the Houston Symphony welcomes back Conductor Laureate Hans Graf for a program of Debussy and Ravel. Recently, I got to ask Maestro Graf a few questions about this shimmering program of musical Impressionism.

Calvin Dotsey: Ravel is known as one of the greatest orchestrators of all time. In terms of orchestration, do you have any favorite passages in Mother Goose or the Piano Concerto in G that stand out to you as particularly ingenious?

Hans Graf: Mother Goose is very moderate in terms of Ravel’s orchestrations, modest and beautiful. It has a couple of characteristic moments, like the contra bassoon solo depicting the Beast asking Beauty for mercy. There is also the Sleeping Beauty Pavane, with its clean clarinet and flute lines that are unlike anything else Ravel composed. The concerto is more like a piece of chamber music. Ravel used the clean colors of the orchestra’s instruments instead of thick combinations, which results in some of the greatest soli for the winds in all of the orchestral repertoire! There are some particularly famous solo parts for piccolo​,​ trumpet, bassoon, and English horn. In fact, Ravel’s wind soli parts in the concerto are so virtuosic that they’re always on the excerpt lists for auditions!

CD: Ravel and Debussy are often grouped together on concerts, recordings and in music history books. What are some of the most notable differences in their styles?

HG: If I had to describe each composer in two words, Ravel would be precision and brilliance, and Debussy would be warmth and color. Debussy is more improvisational, full of the unexpected, not at all “square.” Ravel is much more strict. Both are exceptional composers!

Pianist Jon Kimura Parker

Pianist Jon Kimura Parker

CD: Jon (Jackie) Kimura Parker is a pianist with whom you’ve worked a lot.  What is it about his playing and his approach that appeals to you?

HG: I know him as a pianist of vigorous brilliance! We have never performed the Ravel concerto together. Ravel’s writing is gentle and small, but quite brilliant and bright – on the other end of the spectrum would be something very heavy, like Rachmaninoff. The Ravel concerto’s piano part is glassy and clear, lean and precise. It will be very wonderful for Jackie, because he has such a controlled power and brilliance when he plays, which will lend itself perfectly to Ravel.

Don’t miss Hans Graf with the Houston Symphony!

Ravel & Debussy
October 23, 25, 26, 2014
Hans Graf, conductor
Jon Kimura Parker, piano

Buy tickets now!

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How to Dress Like a Virtuoso: Issa’s take on Sarah Chang

Aside from being a world class violinist, Sarah Chang is also quite the classical music fashionista. In this post, local Houston fashion blogger Issa of we wear things discusses Sarah’s signature style and gives us a few tips on how to get that glamorous virtuoso look.

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As you may have heard violin super star Sarah Chang will be in town performing with the Houston Symphony.  And while her talents will most definitely speak for themselves as you listen to her perform Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, I’m here to talk about her enviable taste in performance attire.

Style: "NOW"Sarah can be seen in classic full length gowns in a variety of colors, but always with a fitted bodice, which I think is not only most flattering but also helps with ease of playing.  You don’t want a big bulky gown to get in the way of your vibrato.  The dress pictured above happens to be my favorite, a classic gown with a trumpet hem to keep it fresh.  When asked about her fashion Sarah said:

“I adore fashion. I also think the whole concert experience is something very old-school Hollywood and special. I always think of the composer first and which piece I’m playing. Then I choose the color and the style of my evening gown to fit a specific composer. I believe that the concert-going experience is visual as well as auditory. The music comes first, but I also want my fashion choices to compliment the composer’s music, not distract from it.”

We should all take a cue from Sarah when it comes to symphony attire by keeping it classic Hollywood glam.

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How to Dress Like a Virtuoso: Sunday Beach on Sarah Chang

Aside from being a world class violinist, Sarah Chang is also quite the classical music fashionista. In this post, local Houston fashion blogger Lauren Mills of Sunday Beach discusses Sarah’s signature style and gives us a few tips on how to get that glamorous virtuoso look.

edp3982-007-MFThis weekend the Houston Symphony welcomes international violin superstar Sarah Chang to Houston for three performances of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. Sarah has a strong sense of style and her love of fashion is evident in her concert wardrobe. She has become known for the gorgeous gowns she dons during her performances. Here’s what she has to say,

 I adore fashion. I also think the whole concert experience is something very old-school Hollywood and special. I always think of the composer first and which piece I’m playing. Then I choose the color and the style of my evening gown to fit a specific composer. I believe that the concert-going experience is visual as well as auditory. The music comes first, but I also want my fashion choices to compliment the composer’s music, not distract from it.

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Simple silhouettes in solid colors dominate Sarah’s style. She wears minimal accessories, which I imagine is a necessity when playing an instrument. I love that her style reflects the music she performs. Take a cue from Sarah and dress like a virtuoso for your next formal event!

fashion blog photos

BaubleBar 360 Pearl Studs | Edie Parker Dottie Acrylic Clutch | Herve Leger Bandage Gown | BCBGMAXAZRIA Gracie Gown | Adriana Orsini Faceted Sterling Silver Earrings | Jimmy Choo Metallic Leather Heels

 -Lauren Mills

Don’t miss Sarah Chang with the Houston Symphony!

Sarah Chang Plus Copland
October 2, 4, 5, 2014
Cristian Macelaru, conductor
Sarah Chang, violin

Buy tickets now!

 

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Q&A with Sarah Chang

Violinist Sarah Chang

Violinist Sarah Chang

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask violin virtuoso Sarah Chang some questions about her up-coming performances of Barber’s Violin Concerto with the Houston Symphony this weekend.

Calvin Dotsey: When did you first learn and perform this concerto?

Sarah Chang: I adore the Barber Concerto! I learned it only 2 years ago, and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s a relatively new friend, but it has quickly found a special place in my heart!

CD: How has your interpretation of this concerto changed since then?

SC: I learn something new about the work every day I play it. I love the near-perfect balance Barber captured between the beautiful lyricism in the first two movements and the technical monstrosity he created in the third movement.

CD: Has research into Barber’s life influenced your interpretation of this piece?

SC: It absolutely has. With every work I perform, I try to read up on the composer and soak up as much knowledge as I possibly can. Getting inside the composer’s head and trying to understand not only his biographical background but also his personal state of being helps mold my interpretation of his work.

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Sarah Chang performs Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with the Houston Symphony this weekend.

CD: Have you met any musicians who knew or worked with Samuel Barber? If so, did your interactions with them influence the way you play Barber’s music?

SC: I personally do not know anyone who had interactions with Barber. However, I have heard wonderful stories of his time at Curtis [Institute of Music], which is not far from where I grew up (I’m a Philadelphia girl), so I feel a connection there.

CD: This piece is being programmed with two other American works. How does this concerto’s “American-ness” influence your preparation and performance?

SC: There is something truly special and heroic about anything and everything that is American. American music, American movies, American sports…We aren’t afraid to show love and to put our hearts on our sleeves!

CD: I’ve read that spontaneity is one of the qualities you most value in performance. How do you balance the need to create spontaneity in the moment with the need to communicate the larger structure of a piece?

SC: I believe in intense preparation before a concert, but once you step onstage, it’s all about spontaneity and sharing that electric moment with the audience. I think the overall line and structure of a piece is paramount, but you need to give yourself as much freedom as the composer will allow and some liberties to take risks on the spot to make magic happen onstage.

CD: A number of our audience members will undoubtedly be amateur violinists (including myself), so here are a few questions specifically relating to violin playing. In your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of performing Barber’s Violin Concerto and why?

SC: Ensemble in the third movement. There’s so much going on, you’re flying all over the fingerboard, and it’s incredibly technical for everyone onstage, not just the soloist. So, everyone has to juggle their parts as well as keeping their eyes and ears open the entire time.

CD: How do you practice? Describe your usual practice routine.

SC: I practice my basics every day. Doesn’t matter if I practice 20 minutes or 6 hours a day, I always do my scales, arpeggios and basic fundamental exercises.

Sarah Chang and her new puppy, Chewie!

Sarah Chang and her new puppy, Chewie!

CD: What do you like to do when you’re not playing music?

SC: I love movies. I’m such a movie nut! I also love fashion, and I recently got a puppy who is, unapologetically, the center of my universe!

CD: You always perform in the most beautiful dresses. How would you describe your sense of style?

SC: Thank you! I adore fashion. I also think the whole concert experience is something very old-school Hollywood and special. I always think of the composer first and which piece I’m playing. Then I choose the color and the style of my evening gown to fit a specific composer. I believe that the concert-going experience is visual as well as auditory. The music comes first, but I also want my fashion choices to compliment the composer’s music, not distract from it.

Love Sarah’s dresses? Check back later this week to find out how to dress like a virtuoso from some of Houston’s trendiest fashion bloggers. Don’t miss Sarah Chang with the Houston Symphony!

Sarah Chang Plus Copland
October 2, 4, 5, 2014
Cristian Macelaru, conductor
Sarah Chang, violin

Buy tickets now!

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