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Popular Classical Music Associated With Horror

Horror Movie Music

The Atmospheric Heart of Terror, Dread & Suspense

Music is the voice of a scene and setting. In many films, viewers are introduced to the story and world through an effective and atmospheric soundtrack, instantly drawing audiences into a great adventure. Now the horror genre is unique in that the music is meant to invoke a sense of fear and dread. In the old days of horror, from the release of the original Dracula, Wolfman, and Frankenstein, certain musical tones became associated with the gothic aura of these films. Many of these musical themes and orchestral songs have been a part of popular culture for decades and even inspired similar tones throughout the history of horror in films. Gothic horror settings are often followed with eerie pianos and the organ. Trumpets are also connected with the booming danger of a fierce monster on a rampage. The vibe of horror is reliant on the power of this music, and these are often used in the most pivotal moments of the story.

5. Moonlight Sonata

First written and performed by Beethoven. The song is popularly known as “Moonlight Sonata,” though the true name is “Piano Sonata No. 14” and “Quasi una fantasia.” This piano classic has played in a variety of moments of peace and serenity after characters endure the dangers of a terrifying situation. Sometimes, it even plays when a brooding character contemplates the events around them or their personal plights. 

In one distinct moment in video game history, there is a segment in the first Resident Evil game where the player navigates either Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield into a room with a piano. Playing Moonlight Sonata on this computer opens a significant room for a key item. Chris Redfied had to allow his helper, Rebecca Chambers, some time to practice on the piano once they found the music sheet for the puzzle. Jill Valentine on the other hand was able to play the piano with the sheet on the spot, showing her talent and obtaining the item. Since then, “Moonlight Sonata” has been associated with that brief moment of respite in Resident Evil.

horror movie music

4. In The Hall of the Mountain King

This iconic piece was composed originally by Edvard Grieg in 1875 and is best associated with the nordic legends of troll folk that gathered deep in the mountains. The story goes that a young ma, named Peter Gynt found himself in the courts of a massive troll in charge of his own court of mystical beings from other trolls, gnomes, and goblins. Depending on the version, everything goes awry and Peter has to either escape the angry court of trolls or appease them through tales as the music intensifies.

In recent years, the composition has been utilized and composed in multiple works of fiction. Many of them center around the mythological trolls—examples are Trollhunter (2011) and Troll (2022). The most recent and unique rendition can be heard in the soundtrack of Bramble: The Mountain King, where players can hear it as part of the final battle against the final boss.

horror movie music

3. Night On Bald Mountain

Released as “Night on the Bare Mountain,” Modest Mussorgsky composed it in 1867 and completed it for St John’s Eve. The origins of the song comes from the folklore gathering of witches and spirits known as a Sabbath on St John’s Eve on Bald Mountain, a large location in Slavic mythology. With such creepy and eerie origins, the song is often associated with rituals and the Wild Hunt.

The musical composition became extremely popular and associated with Disney’s Fantasia film, in which the song was played to the awakening of a massive demon-like entity named Chernobog as he gathers spirits and demons for one terrifying night of hauntings before the light of day banishes them. The song and the imagery shown has been considered one of the most terrifying scenes produced by Disney, making the composition incredibly popular and referenced. 

horror movie music

2. Requiem

Mozart’s “Requiem” was a song full of deep connections to Gothic settings and the somber connections to death. “Requiem” was originally commissioned by Franz von Walsegg for a service to commemorate the death of his 20-year-old wife Anna. Mozart was only able to work on a piece of the requiem before ultimately dying of illness. The rest of the piece is completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr Many considered that the requiem also reflected his own passing.

The sorrowful story of “Requiem” has often been used for the gloomy atmosphere of many Gothic stories, from the more sympathetic portrayals of Dracula to the themes of death that are prevalent in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. “Requiem” can also be seen as a contemplative piece during moments in which characters try to understand the nature of whatever they’re doing or surviving in horror. 

horror movie music

1. Toccata in D Minor

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is a well known piece of organ music first composed at some point in the 18th century. This classical music is the main theme of gothic horror. Any image of a large medieval castle possibly haunted by ghouls, vampires, and other such monsters goes with this classic organ piece. As a result, the instrument has a deep association and connection to gothic horror movies. “Bloody Tears” is a musical track heard in Castlevania that uses the organ inspired by Toccata.

Movies like Phantom of the Opera and Pirates of the Caribbean feature dark, brooding, villainous characters playing on the organ evoking the same gothic feeling of Toccata and exudes the feeling of foreboding dread and fear. Of all classical tones, none truly create the feeling of horror like Toccata in D Minor.

horror movie music

Monster Classics Collection (1999): Official Universal Studios Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Guillermo Rosario
An enthusiast of Fantasy and Sci-Fi. I loved reading about the stories and worlds of video games and movies and writing on a multitude of subjects, from lists to reviews.