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Classical Chat: Dare to descend into darkness and terror

Classical music has some dark and scary masterpieces
Classical music has some dark and scary masterpieces

There are many adjectives we could use to describe classical music: beautiful, uplifting, thrilling, noble, thought-provoking, complex.

But, on occasions, composers can also take us on dark journeys into the abyss and create nightmarish, terrifying musical landscapes.

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Dark themes have been inspiring musicians for centuries.

But, as the rules around harmony and structure were progressively relaxed, composers gained far more freedom to explore dissonance and atmosphere to basically scare audiences witless.

Music like this has been written for a variety of subjects, whether it is the horrors of the real world or merely those being imagined and conjured up.

So let’s turn off the lights, brace ourselves and prepare for the dark journey to begin.

Shostakovich – Symphony No. 8: The Russian genius responds to the carnage of World War Two with eerie depictions of bombing raids and the horrible moment the first movement comes to a dead halt for some huge, percussive, discordant chords.

George Crumb – Black Angels: An electric string quartet evokes “images from the dark land” in a spine-chilling array of shrieks, swoops, slides and other sounds on the boundary of music and noise.

Penderecki – Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima: The Polish composer’s scream of rage for the death and destruction caused by the nuclear bomb is this grating wall of sound for 52 string instruments, interspersed with weird knocks and scrapes.

Scelsi – Uaxuctum: An enormous 20-minute work for chorus, soloists and a very unusual ensemble of brass, wind and percussion telling of a Mayan city which destroyed itself in religious frenzy. Immense and amazing.

Xenakis - Metastasis: Turning advanced maths and war memories directly into music results in an orchestral blast of alien power which utterly shocked its first audience.