More Halloween Music :: Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz

Another bone chilling work of classical music is Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. Written in 1830, Berlioz was telling the story of the life of a troubled artist. The last movement is describing a “witch’s sabbath” taking place at the artist’s own funeral. 

This is very eery music and there are two things that will help us better understand what we are listening to.

First, Berlioz uses the Dies Irae melody. This is a plainchant melody from the middle ages that was included in certain Masses in church. Dies Irae means “Day of Wrath.” The melody was well known and appears dozens of times and in a variety of ways in classical music. 

Some other examples of this melody are found in:

Second, Berlioz uses unique special effects. At one point in the Witch’s Sabbath, the violin part is told to play “Con Legno” which means to play with the wood of the bow. At this point the wood of the bow is struck against the string creating an effect that sounds like dry bones rattling against each other.

Keep enjoying classical music. Here are links to Symphonie Fantastique.



More Halloween Music :: Tartini's "Devil's Trill" Sonata in G Minor

For some reason there are many depictions of the devil playing a violin. I’m not sure where this came from, but it has existed for centuries. One of the earliest pieces of music I can find that represents the devil playing a violin is Tartini’s Violin Sonata in G Minor, “The Devil’s Trill.” The inspiriation supposedly came from a dream where the composer made a deal with the devil.

Here is Tartini’s description of his dream.

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.

Enjoy this beautiful masterpiece as Halloween approaches.

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Easter Music Everyone Should Know

Music is frequently written for or about holidays. Easter is no different. This week I want to highlight music that was made to celebrate Easter. Here are seven works by great composers of all ages. Let me know which you liked and which you didn’t care for. Also, share these with your kids.

Spotify Playlist with all selections

1. Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew’s Passion

St. Matthew’s Passion is one of Bach’s late works and regarded as a masterpiece of counterpoint and harmony. Many historians mark it as the highest point in the composer’s illustrious career making edits to the score just years before his death.

2. Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture

From the land where Easter eggs originated, Rimsky-Korsakov blends the sacred with the secular.

3. Gustav Mahler: Symphony Number 2, Resurrection

Mahler’s second was the first of his really, really big symphonies and it comes from a times when all music seemed to be programed. Every composer after Beethoven who sought to write symphonies lived in a shadow and had to consider what to do that would drive the form forward. Bigger was one answer. Adding vocalist and choir was another. If you want a shorter version to listen to, limit your time to the last two movements.

4. George Frederic Handel: The Messiah

This is simply a great work. Many of the works written about or for Easter use choir to connect something so abstract to a story that is so concrete. Most people know the famous Hallelujah chorus. Fewer people know that is being sung about the resurrection.

5. Franz Joseph Haydn:  The Seven Last Words of Christ.

Haydn didn’t write much sacred music, but here is one of the examples. An orchestral setting of something that is so related to words. 

6. Carlo Gesualdo: Tenebrae Responsoria

As the prince of Venosa, Carlo Gesualdo didn’t need to worry about pleasing patrons (because he was rich) so he developed a very unique use of chromaticism in this medieval music setting of the passion.

7. Arvo Pärt: Passio

The only living composer on the list, Estonian born Arvo Pärt approaches Easter from an Eastern Orthodox perspective and a minimalist style. 

Enjoy the music and have a wonderful Easter celebration. 

Music Appreciation Part 5, Chopin's Preludes

Among the most beautiful piano music every composed is Chopin's Preludes. In this lesson, you will be able to help your kids listen to these great works and help them understand how music conveys emotion through the concept of mode. Be sure to download the worksheet.

Classical Music For Halloween: Night On Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky

Classical Music For Halloween: Night On Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky

Night on Bald Mountain my Mussorgsky is my favorite Classical Music work for Halloween but did you know that there are three versions to this composition? Read on to enjoy this great classical work and learn about its interesting history.

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Classical Music For Halloween: The Masque of the Red Death by Andre Caplet

Good music frequently intersects with other art forms. For instance, it's no accident that we have impressionist music and painting. The philosophies that drove the artist to paint scenes with vivid, blurred colors drove the composers to write vivid, colorful sounding scenes rather than tell stories with rigid form. 

French composer and musician André Caplet decided to compose a work that intersect with the world of American Literature. In 1908 he decided to compose a musical vignette to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death". Poe's works are often associated with Halloween because of their dark subject matter and suspenseful twists. 

You may not have heard of French composer André Caplet before. He won the important Prix De Rome in 1901, beating well known French composer Maurice Ravel. He is also known for his orchestrations of Debussy's works.  Sadly he died of pleurisy resulting from the chemical warfare of World War I. 

The Masque of the Red Death was written in 1908, which was a monumental year in music history. This is the year Arnold Schoenberg wrote his first atonal piece and forever changed the course of western music. Caplet's work is tonal, but still holds many of the qualities of composers in the first decade of the 20th century. Find a copy of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death,"  read it (here's a cheap digital copy on Amazon), and enjoy this masterpiece of the early 20th century.

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Be sure to check out the previous post on Halloween music and explore our composition classes as they offer kids a great way to make music while learning skills like note reading and theory effortlessly.