Well, maybe not terror, exactly. Another dose of melancholia, is more like it. Since I've got the list-making bug this Halloween, here's another one. I thought I'd do a quick top ten of some of my favorite pieces of Halloween mood music, but looking over the mix CDs I've compiled since I learned how to do mix CDs (not that long ago, actually), I see that most of them are pretty chestnut-heavy: you got your Night on Bald Mountain, you got got your Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (aka, the Theme from the Phantom of the Opera), you got your music from Psycho.
So instead, I'm making a list of Halloween waltzes—not all of which are waltzes, and most of which aren't particularly scary, but all of which have (at least to my ear) a certain gothicky melancholy to them. Or to put it rather more accurately, it's a list of minor key waltzes, heavy on the Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Or to put it more grandiosely, it's a list of waltzes that contain a hint of death and/or hysteria, on top of the usual three-quarter-time eros. Which may not seem as seasonal to you as it does to me, but think about it: if Halloween isn't about eros and death, then what is it about? Here they are, in no particular order:
1) "Waltz II," from the Jazz Suite No. 2, by Dmitri Shostakovich. You might recognize this as the music from the closing credits of Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, which was a pretty creepy movie, if not a flat-out horror film. If you know Shostakovich only from his loud, rather bombastic symphonies (as I did for a long time), his jazz suites (available on this terrific Naxos CD) are a real revelation, full of lovely, sly little melodies. He even orchestrated a version of, I kid you not, "Tea for Two."
2) "Gourmet Valse Tartare," by Klaus Badelt, from the soundtrack to Ridley Scott's Hannibal. This is a deliberately scary piece of music, for a film I never even watched all the way to the end. It's sort of a savage reimagining of "The Blue Danube" as the tafelmusik for a dinner party at Hannibal Lecter's. Badelt is a frequent musical collaborator with Hans Zimmer, who wrote most of the music for Hannibal.
3) "The Banker's Waltz," by Mr. Zimmer himself, from the soundtrack to Matchstick Men, which is not even remotely a scary movie. And the waltz isn't really creepy, but it is minor key and so lovely I'm including it anyway. It's my second favorite waltz, in fact.
4) "Happiness," by Sergey Prokofiev, from his ballet Cinderella. This, in case you were wondering, is my favorite waltz. Again, not overtly creepy, but it has a hint of hysteria to it that I've always loved. If you like the jokey-macabre music of Danny Elfman (as I do), then you'll love Prokofiev's waltzes. (It's no diminution of Mr. Elfman's considerable talents to say his orchestral music owes a lot to Prokofiev.) It's not likely anyone will ever make a movie out of my novella "Casting the Runes" from Publish and Perish, but in the imaginary movie version in my head, the entire film is scored with Prokofiev waltzes, and this one plays over the closing credits. There's a terrific Chandos CD of Prokofiev waltzes (CHAN 7076) if you like this sort of thing, performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Neeme Jarvi.
5) "Waltz Moderato," from the soundtrack to The Devil and Daniel Webster, by Bernard Herrmann. You didn't think that just because I'm leaving out Psycho that I wasn't going to include any Herrmann, did you? This is one of the most ghostly pieces of music I've ever heard.
6) "Danse Macabre," by Camille Saint-Saens. Here's a bona fide Halloween chestnut. So sue me.
7) "New Year's Eve Ball," by Prokofiev, from War and Peace. Another sweeping, erotic, melancholy waltz. He actually wrote a "Mephisto Waltz," but I don't think it's gloomy enough, so I'm not including it. Except that I just did. Damn.
8) "Dance of the Witches," by John Williams, from The Witches of Eastwick. This one isn't even a waltz, but it is a dance, so close enough, right? A great piece of macabre music.
9) "Vampire Hunters," by Wojciech Kilar, from the soundtrack to Coppola's Dracula. Again, not a waltz, but a scary, minor key march. It's either that, or I'm wedging in another Prokofiev march, and I'm aiming for variety here, rather than consistency. Which is the hobgoblin (ooh, scary!) of little minds.
10) "Prologue from Vampire Circus," by David Whitaker. This is the longest piece on the list, at nine minutes, and it only has a little bit of waltz in it. But it's one of my favorite pieces of scary music, from my favorite ever Hammer film, Vampire Circus. This is also probably the hardest piece on this list to find; I have it from a Silva compilation called Horror! Monsters, Witches & Vampires (STD 5013). The film's hard to find, too, an early 70s effort with no Christopher Lee and no Peter Cushing, but lots of blood and a fair amount of nudity. Low-budget, lurid, and slapdash in the Hammer manner, it's only borderline coherent, but much of it has the feel of a nightmare, and it contains scenes and situations that even now, in the debased age of Saw and Hostel, are genuinely shocking. I'd go on, but that's another list.
Once again, Happy Halloween!