Playlist: Spooky Symphony

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I’m a composer, and I’m currently involved in a volunteer program where I get to teach middle schoolers how to write their own music. One of my students is a big horror movie fan, and he asked me for some music that would inspire him to write a “scary” piece. When I was hunting down some tunes for him, I realized that all the best scary music I knew was classical. Something about screeching violins, booming organs and choirs chanting in Latin is just spookier than any electric guitar or drum kit, right? And what sounds more like dancing skeletons than a xylophone?

So I was inspired. I knew I had to do an all-classical Halloween playlist for you. A few of these you might recognize, even if you’re not a classical fan — from their use in Looney Tunes or Fantasia. But I hope there will be a few surprises!

Spooky Symphony


Night on Bald Mountain – Modest Mussorgsky
Toccata in D Minor – J.S. Bach
Requiem in D Minor: Dies irae – W.A. Mozart
Erlkönig – Franz Schubert
Peer Gynt Suite No. 1: In the Hall of the Mountain King – Edvard Grieg
Black Angels: II. Absence – George Crumb
“Pirate Jenny” from The Threepenny Opera – Kurt Weill
Danse Macabre – Camille Saint-Saëns
Der Doppelgänger – Franz Schubert
Suite from Psycho – Bernard Herrmann
Symphonie fantastique: V. Songe d’une nuit du sabbat – Hector Berlioz

Lyrics with English translation for Erlkönig and Der Doppelgänger.


Add your favourite scary tracks in the comments below!

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Rose is a 25-year-old Detroit native currently living in Austin, TX, where she is working on her Ph.D. in musicology. Besides Autostraddle, she works as a streaming reviewer for Anime News Network.

Rose has written 69 articles for us.


        • In that case, I’m going with Night on Bald Mountain and Symphonie Fantastique. You can’t be in an orchestra and not play those at SOME point!

          • Nope, the two pieces were:
            -Danse Macabre (high school orchestra)
            -Mozart Requiem (college choir)

            An orchestra I was in at camp read through the fourth movement of Symphonie fantastique but we didn’t perform it, and I’ve played the second Peer Gynt Suite, but not the first one (the one that has In the Hall of the Mountain King). So close, but no quite. Disappointing, though, since I love all the pieces mentioned, obviously! The piece I’m writing right now is actually somewhat modeled on Symphonie fantastique.

      • My high school orchestra was pretty lousy, and I actually haven’t done too much performing since I’ve been in college (since I’m not majoring in performance).

  1. The Cure – Lullaby.

    I know it’s not classical, but it’s a CLASSIC and should be featured on any playlist that involves spooky. Or just any playlist. EVEEERRRRR.

  2. ah, fellow composer!

    i’m a really big fan of charles ives’ quarter-tone piano pieces, and i guess they could sound pretty creepy if you’re not really into that…same goes for a lot of Penderecki’s music. Also, Harry Partch’s microtonal music!

    so much love for this.

    • That’s cool that you’re also a composer, what are you working on lately? Also, I <3 <3 <3 <3 Charles Ives! He's my favorite American composer.

      Re: Penderecki, I thought about including the Threnody, but figured that might be a little much – especially with the Crumb I put on there, too.

      • i’ve been playing around with polytonality a lot in this violin/cello duet i’m working on for class, and it’s really a lot of fun. and at the end of this summer i finished up a short minimalism piece for acoustic guitar, string quartet, and percussion.

        charles ives + ruth crawford seeger are definitely my favorite american composers! and steve reich!

  3. Love this playlist! I have to say that anything from Berg’s Wozzeck really creeps me out (must be the sprechstimme). Act III, Scene IV gives me the chills every time. :)

    • That opera is indeed creepy – but awesome! I love sprechstimme, I actually used it in a vocal piece I just finished. (It wasn’t all sprechstimme, just in some key moments.)

  4. Yay! First playlist that I can listen to xD I’m so happy that I already know like half the list lol

  5. Well, this is the post that finally got me to set up an Autostraddle account. When I was on tour with a musical group a couple of years ago, I would put my ipod on shuffle to sleep on the bus. I would often wake up in the middle of the night from terrifying dreams to find that I was listening to the Rite of Spring…

    Rose, as for guessing what you’ve performed, tell us what you sing/play first!

  6. One time last year my roommate turned out all the lights in the apartment and put on the Red Violin concerto by John Corigliano (fun fact: gay). We listened to the whole thing in the dark and it was TERRIFYING. So I recommend that. Especially the second and fourth movements.

  7. love this! I was like ‘symphonie fantastique better be on there, nothing like a decapitated head rolling away’ and there it is.

    • Yeah, unfortunately I decided not to include that movement – as macabre as the whole scaffold scene is in the fourth movement, I thought the witch’s sabbath in the fifth was more befitting the Halloween theme.

    • Oh shit, you go to Peabody? That’s wicked sweet. I almost transferred there back in the day but they don’t take mid-year transfers (or at least they didn’t 3 years ago)

  8. Cool list! I don’t have much in the way of classical or even just purely instrumental music, but I do have some Halloween-appropriate stuff that people might find interesting.

    The Creepy List:
    Something Dark Is Coming – Battlestar Galactica Season 2 soundtrack (okay, I do have some instrumental)
    Gloomy Sunday – Billie Holiday
    Bloodletting (The Vampire Song) – Concrete Blonde
    Richard Hung Himself – D.I.
    I Want To Kill You – Darling Violetta
    Corrupt – Depeche Mode
    The Killing Moon – Echo and the Bunnymen
    My Computer Said Kill – The Groovie Ghoulies
    Dark Carnivale – Gypsy Nomads
    Kill Me Kiss Me – Hangry & Angry
    Leveller – Inkubus Sukkubus
    Vampyra – Inkubus Sukkubus (actually, pretty much their entire catalog qualifies)
    Run Like Hell – Kittie
    The Bonny Swan – Loreena McKennitt
    Love Me Dead – Ludo
    The Perfect Drug – Nine Inch Nails
    Suicide Machine – No Fun At All
    Beheaded – The Offspring
    Wytches’ Brew – Omnia
    Pennywise – Pennywise
    Angry Johnny – Poe
    REV 22:20 – Puscifer
    Leechwife – Rasputina
    Transylvanian Concubine (Manson Mix) – Rasputina
    Casimira – SJ Tucker
    Animated Corpse – Tilt
    Prison Sex – Tool
    Pretty When You Cry – VAST

    Samhain List for my fellow Pagans:
    Fires at Midnight – Blackmore’s Night
    Witches’ Jig – Green Crown
    Hail the Holly King – Inkubus Sukkubus
    Samhain – Inkubu Sukkubus
    Come to the Labyrinth – SJ Tucker
    The Circle Song – Wendy Rule
    Persephone – Stellamara

  9. Fantastic list!! These spooky pieces are probably some of my faves. My partner and I are also classically trained musicians and were transported back to our great times in grad school. :)

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    PS – Especially love the performance selections!

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