The Accursed Huntsman. The name is even creeper in French: Le Chausseur Maudit.
This oft overlooked orchestral gem by Belgian composer Cesar Franck was part of the program that I got to hear with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra this past week. It's full of dramatic and creepy effects in the orchestra, as the piece follows the journey of the Count of the Rhine who gets himself in trouble by deciding to go hunting instead of going to church on Sunday. While he's out in the woods, a voice cries to him, "Accursed hunter, be thou eternally pursued by Hell!" And thus, an infernal hunt commences, where the count is now pursued by demons and imps.
With Halloween around the corner, it's a good time to add Franck's Accursed Huntsman to your playlist – along with these other creepy, haunted classical pieces.
Another fiendish wild ride can be found in “Tam O'Shanter” by Malcolm Arnold. The playful skeletons in the Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens and the swirling of witches out to meet the devil in Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky are both old favorites. Add into the mix a few creepy selections from 19th century German composer of eerie operas, Heinrich Marschner, with his Der Vampyr and Hans Heiling. In Schubert's songs, a father takes a desperate ride to save his son from the beguiling “Erl King” who claims the boy's life, while another man meets his own ghost outside the house of his former love.
Hector Berlioz's obsession and opium-fueled dreams give us scenes of a witch's sabbath and a grimly gleeful march to the scaffold. Franz Liszt's variations on “Dies Irae” - Totentanz (Dance of Death) are a fierce bit of manic horror. The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach is not horrific per se, but it belongs in any haunted house worth its salt. The devil's trill sonata is Italian baroque composer Giuseppe Tartini's attempt to recreate a lost dream of a deal with the devil, and finally Gustav Holst's music for Mars from the Planets evokes a horror that is perhaps all too real.
The playlist comes to about two hours – that should cover most of a Halloween party or plenty of visits from trick-or-treaters. Let me know any of your favorite frights in the comments.