Every Halloween, my Dad would play this spooky piece of music while we were busy carving pumpkins. I never knew the name of this piece until I was older and studying music history at university. Turns out, it’s an orchestral piece called “In the Hall of the Mountain King” composed by Edvard Grieg in 1875. It’s dreamy fantasy music that evokes images of marching goblins and trolls and my sisters and I would dance around in our devil costumes with our jack-o-lanterns.
Years later, I inherited my Dad’s LP record collection and I now play Halloween music for my kids as well as other orchestral pieces found in his extensive collection. There’s a wide selection of symphonic music that is beautiful and powerful as well as spooky for Halloween. Make this Halloween extra fun and spooky by including symphonic music selections as well as the popular Halloween standards when trick-or-treaters arrive on your doorstep. Here is a list of orchestral pieces to get you spooked:
1 | “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas
Paul Dukas was a French composer who composed this dazzling orchestral work in 1897. It became popular through its inclusion in the 1940 Walt Disney animated film Fantasia, in which Mickey Mouse plays the role of the apprentice. The music conjures up images of magic spells, wizardry, and dancing brooms. The pizzicato broomstick theme on the clarinets gives the music a marching rhythm. The final bars of the piece finish with a calm and mysterious tempo before the rush to the cadence and the final loud chord. Encourage your kids to draw or paint a picture while they are listening to this imaginative music.
2 | “Danse Macabre, Op. 40” by Camille Saint-Saens
Danse Macabre is a tone poem for orchestra, written in 1874 by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The composition is based upon a poem about an ancient superstition wherein the Grim Reaper appears at midnight on Halloween night. He calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle. The skeletons dance until the break of dawn, when they must return to their graves. The piece opens with a harp playing a single note 12 times to signify the clock striking midnight, accompanied by soft chords from the string section. This then leads to the eerie melody played by a solo violin, representing death on his fiddle. The piece is energetic with strong dynamics. The final section, a pianissimo, represents the dawn breaking and the skeletons returning to their graves. The piece makes particular use of the xylophone to imitate the sounds of rattling bones. Lots of fun at a Halloween dance party!
3 | “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens
Camille Saint-Saens also wrote a humorous orchestral suite, which is wonderful music to play at Halloween for young children. “Carnival of the Animals” is a suite of 14 movements and each movement represents an animal. For example, there is the “Royal March of the Lion,” “The Kangaroo,” “The Elephant,” and “The Swan.” The most famous movement is “The Aquarium,” which is musically rich with a mysterious and ominous melody. Encourage your trick-or-treaters to wear animal costumes and move and dance to the music, pretending to be the animals.
4 | “Totentanz” by Franz Listz
Liszt loved to flirt with death. The great Romantic was obsessed with all things macabre and diabolical, themes he explored in many of his works. Totentanz (Dance of the Dead) is a symphonic piece composed in 1849 for solo piano and orchestra and it is one of his most thrilling pieces. The piece opens with menacing and sweeping chords and the solo pianist must play repeated notes with diabolic and percussive intensity. There are also special sound effects in the orchestra in the “col legno battuto” section where the strings play with the wooden part of the bow and sound like rattling or clanking bones. Give your kids wooden rhythm sticks to tap to the beat at the “col legno” section.
Symphonic music is an enjoyable and wonderful way to spend time with your family at Halloween or at any time of the year. By taking the time to explore symphonic music, you will be expanding your child’s imagination and inner sense of creativity. Happy Halloween!