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26 Oct 2018

10 Creepy Classical Pieces for October


For some people, October 31st is celebrated as All Saints’ Eve, while for others the end of the month is the time of the spookiest holiday of the year – Halloween, a day full of strange costumes, walking dead-ish people and horror-like decorations.

Historically, this day, originally intended for remembrance of the departed ancestors, has been accompanied by traditional ‘theme’ music taken from classical and religious works. No Halloween passes without listening to such well-known pieces as “Danse Macabre” by Saint-Saëns, or “Ride of the Valkyries” by Wagner, or Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. For one reason or another, these pieces are able to create that special ambiance that would cause mystical and dark associations for many people, making them envision the dance of death, or imagine the flight with Valkyries or visit the Mountain King’s cave in their mind.

We present to you a shortlist of some more and less popular but all truly creepy classical compositions. You can add your suggestions in the comment section below!

1. S. Rachmaninoff, “Isle of the Dead”

In 1907 Sergei Rachmaninoff visited Paris and saw a painting by the Swiss symbolist Arnold Böcklin. It was a black-and-white reproduction of his “Isle of the Dead” that inspired the Russian composer for writing a symphonic poem in A Minor. The mystic work was concluded in 1908 and became a vivid example of Russian Romanticism of the early 20th century. However, after seeing the original work in color, Rachmaninoff said he was very disappointed and probably would not have written the poem. Luckily, he did see the B&W version first.

Isle of the Dead

Image: Arnold Böcklin, “Isle of the Dead”

2. I. Stravinsky, “The Sacrifice”

The second part of Stravinsky’s scandalous ballet “The Rite of Spring” is full of barbaric and brutal rhythms able to totally stir up one’s inner self and strike you with its startling and chaotic percussion. In fact, the entire ballet was initially meant to be titled ‘The Great Sacrifice’ and you can’t but feel the meaning of this heavy word in every single passage.

3. A. Caplet, “The Mask of Death”

Harp is not really associated with something creepy, is it. Nevertheless, André Caplet made it sound so in a combination with a string quartet. The inspiration behind this work is Edgar Poe’s popular story about the devastating plague – “Masque of the Red Death”. As a result, we have an extraordinary piece of ‘elegant horror’, soft and frightening at the same time.

4. M. Mussorgsky, “Night On Bald Mountain”

What happens on the Bald Mountain doesn’t stay on the Bald Mountain but comes to our knowledge in form of an ominous “musical painting’ skillfully drawn by Mussorgsky. Aiming to create something mystical and depicting the fears of the peasant people, composer set to music his vision of the witches’ sabbath, filling the tone poem with screams, howling and all the nasty stuff that the evil spirits could be possibly producing during the annual meeting.

5. F. Liszt, “Mephisto Waltz No.1”

The agony that accompanies the first part of the waltz makes it one of the most dramatic and overwhelming piano pieces that sounds equally creepy with and without the orchestra. A beautiful passionate sample of program music generating so much drama.

6. B. Bartók, “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta”

Let’s focus on the adagio here. That xylophone… it can make anyone nervous. Another instrument that is humble and innocent out of context but sounds unexplainably creepy when combined with some gentle strings and occasional but persistent percussion. That could work as a perfect Halloween background music if you are in need of adding some decent tension to the holiday.

Video: Adagio from Bartók’s “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta” 

7. H. Berlioz, “Dream of Witches’ Sabbath”

More witches! More sabbath! Berlioz dwelt on the topic too and he did it in his own spine-chilling manner. Conductor Bernstein called the work an expedition to the psychedelia due to its hallucinatory nature. So many evilish audio effects are to be found nowhere else, perhaps. That’s where you can emerge into the world of strange groans, distant screams, hysterical laughter, diabolical dances and somber bubbling.

8. P. Dukas, “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

Be aware that every time you gonna play it at home, the brooms are highly likely to get out of control and start flying. The Creepy in this music work is rather of Disney nature, it’s a big contrast to, say, the previous composition by Berlioz, for example, a much kinder fairy-tale type of evil that we be greatly enjoyed by the kids.

9. S. Prokofiev, “Dance of the Knights”

Nothing can warn you better about something big and scary coming than Prokofiev’s famous orchestral suite “Montagues and Capulets”. The two clans at war meet each and the encounter becomes fateful for the young Romeo and Juliette. Knowing a huge spoiler from Shakespeare’s drama, you simply can’t listen to this menacing beginning indifferently.

10. C. Orff, “O Fortuna”

If this is not the audio quintessence of evil than we don’t know what is. The despair, impending doom and fatality are the minimal set of emotions to invade you from the first notes, while the choir keeps adding more drama. This perfect crescendo is a ready-made soundtrack to any cataclysm.

Video: “O, Fortuna”, C. Orff 

You can search up the sheet music to these works (full scores and parts) in our sheet music catalogue and play them yourself during the holiday time.

20 Feb 2018

Five Curious National Anthems

world flags
Whether you are deeply patriotic or not, the sound of your country’s national anthem is something you hear regularly and will instantly recognize wherever you are. This music accompanies the nations for years and often dates back to the times when the country didn’t even exist. The curious thing is that almost none of the present-day anthems were written by any of the world-known classical composers (which would be a logical thing to do, right?). 

We have picked five national songs with an interesting story behind them to see how the music of the peoples was born, how it was chosen for such an important role in the country life and why they spark the most curiosity. You might look at this specific music from a different angle and want to play some yourself. Should you decide so, the scores of these and other hymns can be searched and downloaded in our catalogue. 

So let’s start.

1. Spain

As you know, Spain is divided into many territories that differ not just geographically but culturally too. It’s not just about certain traditions but the language itself is not equally ‘Spanish’ everywhere. The passionate nation consists of Spaniards, Catalonians, Basques and so on, and often can’t agree on what’s actually to be called nationally Spanish. Choosing the lyrics in a language that would suit everywhere seemed a mission-impossible to they chose to have none! A simple and clever decision. Although there were a few attempts to add words to the 18th-century music known as “Marcha Real” (‘Royal March’), all of them failed. Likewise, such countries as Bosnia and Herzegovina, San Marino and Kosovo also preferred to stay wordless in their main national music works for similar reasons.

2. South Africa

A complete opposite to the previous case, South Africa loves languages! While some countries, as we already know, have only music in their anthems, the majority still prefer to include the lyrics that add to the national sentiment. In rare cases, a nation may have even two language versions of the song depending on the diplomatic context of the performance. But for South Africa, two was not enough! The official anthem of the country is compiled from 5 languages, including English that was introduced by Nelson Mandela back in 1997. The music was composed by Enoch Sontonga one hundred years earlier in 1897. If your language skills are really good, try singing the song in the original Sesotho, Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans.

3. Mexico

Unlike most of the anthems where the pride for one’s country was driving the author, the story of Mexican national song is almost a love story. It can easily be played as a Valentine’s Day tune for your second half, but maybe skip the lyrics like ‘let other nations’ banners be soaked n waves of blood’. In 1853, the Government started a competition for the best anthem but a certain young poet Francisco Bocanegra was too much in love with his fiancée Pili to think about patriotism. He was casting romantic poems for his woman and believed that one day all men of the world would read them to their second halves. He refused to take part in the contest but Pili was convinced her boyfriend was the one who should win it. One day, she dragged him to a secluded room in her parents’ house, kissed him passionately in a promising manner and then shut the door closed on the outside saying he could leave only once an anthem was written. As a visual inspiration, the girl left the wars of the room decorated with patriotic posters and military paintings depicting the fights with Spaniards and dozens of deceased soldiers. Not as romantic a situation as Francisco had imagined. Four hours after, a paper with ten bloodthirsty and cruel verses appeared under the door. Just a few days later, the anthem won the competition.

4. Liechtenstein

Listen to it carefully and you will hear something familiar. Right, you might have heard something like that in the UK – this country’s anthem is the exact copy of “God Save the Queen”, only the lyrics differ. The explanation to that is very simple. Earlier, many countries started by adopting the British anthem before coming up with something of their own. Among them were New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Barbados, Tuvalu. As time passed, their own national music and words emerged and the British anthem was no longer needed. However, Liechtenstein preferred to stick to the familiar tune only changing the words. 

5. Germany

In the very beginning, we mentioned that almost none of the present-day anthems were composed by the classical geniuses. Germany is an exception in this sense. Their national song “Deutschlandlied” was composed in 1797 by no one else than Joseph Haydn (check out String Quartet No.3, Op. 76, Mov. II to see). However, it wasn’t a competition of any kind so the famous composer wasn’t aware of the fact that his composition was to become an anthem. The music was, however, composed for the author’s then-homeland – Austria. In 1922, the Germans thought they the piece was conveying their national idea perfectly so they chose to adopt it as their own and thus shared it with the Austrian people. In 1946, the latter decided to change the anthem for another one, on the basis of a Mozart melody, while the Germans still are playing Haydn at the football championships.

Some anthems are real record-setters. For example:

  • Uruguay can boast of the longest one – it is an over-5-minute long composition in Bellini style bel canto that equals nine “God Save the Queen”s. Likewise, Greece also went for a long work – 158 stanzas!
  • The shortest anthem belongs to Uganda – just 8 bars of music.
  • Malaysia didn’t have an anthem and the Sultan’s aide was told to make one right during the official visit to London. On the spot!
  • Czechoslovakia’s anthem had one verse in Czech and the other in Slovakian, so naturally, after the country split, each side took one verse for its own anthem.
  • Japan has the oldest lyrics in its anthem (from years 800).
  • The composer of St. Helena’s anthem saw the country only on a postcard.
  • Andorra’s song is the only first-person narrative.
  • France has the darkest and the most bloodthirsty lyrics in its national music.

National anthems stay untouched for dozens of years but musicians have been trying to experiment even with this official form of music that is a part of the state identity. For example, the American anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” exists in an arrangement by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, which even caused an incident with Boston police in 1941 for the matter of ‘tampering with the national property’. A few days ago, another singer in the history of Spain, Marta Sánchez, attempted to present her vocal version of the wordless Spanish anthem (with no luck, just like all the previous attempts of the kind). Numerous covers appear until today, and attempts are made to bring changes to the existing music tradition, including by the musicians of our community.

Below is musician’s Maxime Goulet’s attempt to bring 35 national songs in one mosaic to celebrate the musical diversity. How good are you at spotting all of them?

Video: 35 national anthems in a 2-minute compilation
27 Dec 2017

Happy New Year 2018!

Dear Music Lovers!

New Year 2018

They say that in order to get a perfect New Year recipe, you need to take a dash of Joy, mix it with a touch of Peace, add a little pinch Magic, stir with some Hope and garnish it all with a lot of Love and Care. Enjoy the treat! 

We wish you very warm and cozy holidays and an even happier year ahead!

To make this holiday season brighter and fill it with more music we have gathered all Christmas and New Year tunes in one place. For your convenience, all Christmas sheet music is grouped in one section.

The Featured Sheet Music is also dedicated to holiday-related compositions many of which are the creations of contemporary composers – MusicaNeo members – who are happy to share their festive mood with you. The selected scores are presented at our homepage.

Let us rejoice together!

Above all, we have made a little present for the performers – now and until January 20, 2018, all sheet music published at our platform is available with a 20% discount. In order to use it, you just need to type the HAPPY2018 code at the checkout of your order. The code can be shared with friends and used multiple times during this period.

Season greetings

from all of us at MusicaNeo!

14 Aug 2017

The Eccentric Figure of Erik Satie

French composer Erik Satie, the author of Gymnopédies, Gnossienes and Sarabandes, is one the most enigmatic composers of the 19th century. Like many creative people, he had his own weird habits and features that may seem way too strange today. Below are some of the facts that draw the composer’s human portrait. Let’s see how much you know about this outstanding music artist.

Some of the facts you will read below are only what is called ‘as believed’ while others have been documentarily proved. And most of them are definitely somewhat weird.

The Eccentric Figure of Erik Satie

"I have never written a note I didn't mean."
Erik Satie (1866 - 1925), self-portrait

Laziness. Was Satie’s main characteristic as a student. As a boy, he was attracted to music and took his first lessons at the age of 6 from a local organist. But it didn’t work so well later. According to his teacher Ms. Emile Descombes, the young Satie was the laziest student in the entire conservatory (Satie studied in Paris Conservatoire). He was also labelled as forever-bored, untalented, worthless and unpromising. Only to avoid the military service, the teenager continued attending classes once in a while, demonstrating his sheer boredom.

Bronchitis. Was the decease Satie deliberately infected himself with. The thing is he did end up in the military eventually. But that wasn’t where he wanted to be so after a few months there he got himself infected in order to be discharged from the army.

Umbrella. Was Satie’s permanent companion. Composer hated the sun so he would always go for one of those long walks around Paris with one of the numerous umbrellas he had. Once a French composer Georges Auric accidentally broke Satie’s umbrella, and the latter didn’t talk to him for a couple of years because of that.

Hammer. Was another companion for Satie. People saw him wearing it inside the coat as a means of protection against potential attackers. Composer said he also looked behind himself when walking, breathed carefully ‘a little at a time’, and danced rarely. All as a safety measure.

Grey Suit. Was Satie’s only outfit after 1895. He had a dozen of identical grey velvet suits he wore every day one by one. At a certain moment, he was nicknamed ‘the velvet gentleman’.

White. Was the only colour of the food Satie consumed. He could eat 150 oysters in a row and described his nourishing habits in his book “Memoirs of An Amnesiac” (1965) like this: "My only nourishment consists of food that is white: eggs, sugar, shredded bones, the fat of dead animals, veal, salt, coconuts, chicken cooked in white water, moldy fruit, rice, turnips, sausages in camphor, pastry, cheese (white varieties), cotton salad, and certain kinds of fish (without their skin). I boil my wine and drink it cold mixed with the juice of the Fuchsia. I have a good appetite, but never talk when eating for fear of strangling myself."

Suzanne. Was the name of Satie’s one and only love. In his 20ies, Satie fell in love with his neighbour from the next door. He would slip passionate notes under her door and propose to her the night they got together. The two painted each other’s portraits, had an exuberant half-a-year affair but never got married. After the breakup, Satie said he was left with "nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness". He never got over Suzanne. A few compositions by Satie were dedicated to his partner, including the poignant and pretty depressive “Vexations” (the longest piece ever written, with 840 repetitions, uff).

Religion. Satie had his own. In 1891, he used to be composing for his friend’s “Mystical Order” sect but after their friendship was over, he decided to found his own church – “Église Métropolitaine d'Art de Jésus Conducteur” – for he never liked any of the official religions. Satie was the only member of his Church.

Light as an Egg. Was one of the eccentric score instructions by Satie. His other unperformable whimsical directions in the sheet music include “open your head”, “work it out yourself”, “be invisible for a moment”, “here comes the lantern”, “with astonishment”, “imbibet” (drunken), “muffle the sound”, and “corpulentus” (corpulent). Satie often wrote his music in red ink and without the bar lines.

Duel. Was Satie’s means of drawing attention to his music in 1892. At the early period, still writing music for the sect, composer was longing for publicity. This is why he called for and actually arranged a duel with Paris Opera’s director Eugene Bertrand. He thought it was the fastest way to getting his ballet “Uspud” noticed and staged.

27 years. Is the time during which Erik Satie didn’t let a single person in his room. After composer’s death, piles of all kinds of trash were discovered there. Amid dozens of umbrellas and newspapers, two pianos were found, one above the other, with pedals interconnected. That weird sculpture served as storage for various parcels and papers. Not so long ago, the tiny room in No.6 at Rue Cortot in Paris was a museum of Erik Satie that was closed in 2009.

Yet more than any personal facts, Erik Satie’s music speaks the most about him. At times misunderstood and not acknowledged, his works were going against the modern conventions dictated by the conformism of the impressionism, romanticism and Wagnerism of that time. Composer’s controversial reputation did not downgrade the role of his heritage, though, his music being avant-gardist and at the same simple and comprehensible.