So you’re trying to plan a spooky dinner party, Dr. Hannibal Lecter style. You’ve got your fava beans, maybe even a nice Chianti. The knives have been sharpened, and the blood stains have been bleached out of the table clothes & curtains (these things get messy, I’m not one to judge), but something is missing…
It’s not the candles that cast the most subtly sinister shadows, nor is it guest list of the most appetizing folks you know. Instead, the room is quiet. Too quiet. You’ve forgotten your devilishly good soundtrack! You can’t just play anything, but never fear- I’ve concocted a list featuring some of the most sinister tunes around that are sure to leave guests feeling positively haunted.
10. Camille Saint-Saens – Danse Macabre
No, we’re not talking about Ghost’s poppiest single. Instead, we have the French composer’s ode to a French allegory. With a title like this, it was guaranteed a spot. Death personified appears at midnight on Halloween, capable of summoning the dead around him to dance together to the grave. It’s a classic memento mori because you should never forget that you too will die.
The song has almost a jaunty feel to it, with undercurrents of anxiety that accompany a shrill violin that truly allows one to feel as if they’re trailing behind a skeleton to a dark cemetery at the end of the lane. It’s a fun tune to dance to, but beware where you might end up.
9. Johann Sebastian Bach – Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
Probably one of the most recognizable songs out there, regardless of whether or not the title itself is. Not even five seconds in and it somehow manages to strike a note of fear in your heart in a way that almost feels familiar.
A Johann Sebastian Bach piece that sounds like villainy and horror personified, the piece has been used in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) and The Black Cat (1934). The booming organ almost assaults the senses, and while guests might recognize what they’re hearing, it might put them on their toes.
8. Franz Liszt – Totentanz
Totentanz, which translates to “Dance of the Dead” (noticing a pattern yet?) was inspired by all things grotesque, macabre, and fantastic with a heavy side of irony. The song was shocking with new innovations utilized by its composer Liszt, who seemingly reveled in the romantic notions of death.
Liszt incorporated life & death, heaven & hell into quite a few of his pieces and solidified his Goth status by frequenting gallows for inspiration. The piece is almost too much to handle. It both lulls you into a sense of security before throwing you down the stairs with the brutish force of a piano.
7. Caplet – Masque of the Red Death
Caplet took his inspiration for this piece from Edgar Allen Poe himself. Rather than retell the story of the Masque of the Red Death, he wanted to evoke the feeling of it. Few pieces are capable of evoking the fear, anxiety, and paranoia that Caplet manages to pull off with five instruments.
The piece runs at a little over 16 minutes long and yet somehow manages to keep you completely enthralled and almost uncomfortable the entire time. Be sure to play this after you’ve welded all the doors shut.
6. Heinrich Marschner – Der Vampyr
The perfect way to settle after a bloody good dinner and take a break before the diabolical desserts are brought out is an old fashioned stroll around the castle. No better song to accompany you than the overture for the 1828 opera Der Vampyr, which opens on a Witches’ Sabbath at midnight.
The piece is a roller coaster, going through bloody deaths and moments of serenity that are soon ripped to shreds by the sharpest of fangs. While lulling you into a sense of security, the undercurrents are sharp enough to remind you that just maybe, that shadow seems to be moving a bit closer every time you blink.
5. Héctor Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique Op.14 – 5th Movement
Another Romantic era piece that threatens the listener with more than a good time. Symphonie Fantastique Op.14 – 5th Movement was inspired by Berlioz’s own unrequited love. A tale began that was told through almost panicked moments of violins moving to sluggish moments only to be interrupted by sharp bells.
Berlioz composes the story of a gifted artist who dissolves into madness from opium after his love goes un-reciprocated. The piece has been described as one of the first ventures into psychedelia due to its dreamy and sometimes nightmarish nature. Berlioz is thought to have composed parts of it while using opium.
4. Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring
An infamous piece that caused panic and chaos the first time it was debuted to the public, The Rite of Spring was described as a representation of Pagan Russia unified under the creative power of Spring. The story tells of a sacrificial virgin who dances herself to death. Violent, exotic choreography accompanied the music, with moves so jarring the dancers felt their organs shake. It’s been described as the work of a mad man, and when you listen to it it’s easy to see why.
The Rite of Spring is an explosion of sound that seems to make no sense to the human ear. Its supernatural quality borders on primordial, evoking fear, anger, and violence while never giving way to explain why. The name can be seen as misleading; it lacks the pastel cheer of spring time. But it’s easy to see why some depict it as the forerunner to heavy metal.
3. Béla Bartók – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, III
All work and no play makes Béla a dull boy. Most famously known as part of The Shining soundtrack, the piece is evocative of sanity being slowly but surely stripped away. It manages to pull off a dream-like state while tip-toeing around that moment before sheer panic.
With a crescendo that could stop any heart, Music for Strings utilizes each moment beautifully. Anxiety is ramped up to the max with delicate sounds that slowly begin to pierce at the brain. The piece pairs best with a snowy day and long, sinister hallways.
2. Giuseppe Tartini – The Devil’s Trill
Tartini set out to bed one night in 1713 expecting nothing more than a casual night’s rest. Instead, he found himself in a vivid dream paired against Satan himself. True to nature, the Devil wanted to strike a deal. For Tartini’s soul, he’d be his servant until the end. Tartini took the chance to test the Devil’s musical chops and it turns out the Prince of Darkness has an uncanny ability to slay with the violin.
Tartini woke up and and in a frenzy tried to write down what he had heard. What he managed to produce was a piece so deliciously wicked it’s hard to believe Old Scratch isn’t actually one to take credit.
1. Carl Maria von Weber – Der Freischütz Act II
My personal favorite on the list and a top contender for best song to take a midnight stroll in the woods to. The story of the opera is full of devilish mishaps; deception, disgrace, and the selling of souls. The Devil himself makes an appearance, ready to close bargains that had been struck. The song is full of ominous whispers, shrill screams and ghostly moans.
The final act features pulsating rhythms and skitterish violins that sound like the Devil’s personal soundtrack. It’s unrelenting; there are no breaks, no moments of safety. Instead, each pause and slight moment of silence only amplify the fear. The scene takes place in the Wolf’s Glen, the dark orchestral piece accompanied by even more disturbing visuals. The opera isn’t for the faint of heart, and this piece only solidifies it as one of the darkest classical pieces to haunt your house with.
What songs would you include on the soundtrack to your murder
mystery party? Did you find any new favourites on this list? Let us know on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!