Going along with our spooky sounds of Halloween this week, today let’s listen to a few pieces that are associated with creepy stories that you may or may not be familiar with. First up is Dvorak’s Noonday Witch. Inspired by the poem “Polednice” by Karel Jaromir Erben which was based on the noon demon “Lady Midday” found in Slavic mythology, the story behind the music relates to a mother who warns her young son to behave or she will summon the noon witch. When he continues to misbehave, the witch appears, terrifying the mother. In fear and attempts to protect her child, the mother holds the boy close, accidentally smothering him to death. You can listen to Dvorak’s musical interpretation of this terrifying tale here:
Another haunting story comes from Goethe’s poem “Erlkonig” that Schubert (along with many other composers) set to music. This piece for voice and piano tells of a father and son riding on horseback through the night. As the son cries out in fear of the approaching, yet enticing Erl King, the father hushes him to silence, not believing the boy’s story. When the horse arrives to their destination, the father finds the boy dead in his arms. Schubert does an excellent job at conveying the different characters in this poem. The Erl King who is an enticing character, sings in a major key in order to sound positive and convincing. The father too sings in a major key, ignorant of the impending doom of his child. The boy and the narrator, on the other hand, aware of the ultimate fate, sing in an eerie and sorrowful minor key. You can listen to Jessye Norman sing this magnificent piece here. Can you hear the racing of the horse’s hoofs in the piano?
Lastly, let’s listen to the famous “Sacrificial Dance” from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
Do you remember what happens during this primitive ballet? A girl is chosen as a sacrifice and must dance herself to death. You can watch a scene from this opera here. Notice the irregular meter and frequent alterations of notes and rests in Stravinsky’s music that help to depict this scene: