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Sources: Jana Fallin, 785-532-3827,;
and Craig Parker, 785-532-3810,
News release prepared by: Rosie Hoefling, 785-532-6415,

Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009


MANHATTAN -- Several famous musical compositions have become known for their terror-raising appeal through their association with various mediums of pop culture, according to two Kansas State University professors.

"Most music which is considered scary is because of its association with literature or because it was used in a movie, television show or drama to evoke horror or surprise," said Craig Parker, associate professor of music history at K-State.

One of the best-known scary compositions of music is Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Parker said. Originally written as an organ piece in 1707, Parker said the piece is now more widely known for its role in movies such as "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "Phantom of the Opera," "Sunset Boulevard" and "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Jana Fallin, professor of music education at K-State, said she attributes two scary musical compositions to the Walt Disney movie "Fantasia." Fallin said these two selections include "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," composed by Paul Dukas, and "Night on Bald Mountain" originally written by Modest Moussorgsky and orchestrated by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov.

Parker said that much of the horror in scary movies does not come from the dialogue or graphic visuals but is rather found in the music.

"Masters of writing scary music in movies included Bernard Herrmann, who wrote the music for most of Hitchcock's movies, including 'Psycho' with its terrifying shower scene, and Franz Waxman, who wrote the music for 'The Bride of Frankenstein' and many other horror films," Parker said. "Excerpts from their movie scores often appear on orchestral concerts and radio broadcasts, particularly around Halloween."

Some other compositions that are associated with Halloween or horror, according to Parker and Fallin, include:

* "The Banshee" by American composer Henry Cowell was written intentionally to scare the listener by depicting the Irish legend of a ghost-like creature claiming the soul of a recently deceased person, Parker said. To convey this imagery, the performer of the piece unconventionally plucks, strums and strikes the strings of the piano without touching the keys to create sounds of a different world, he said.

* "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saens is based on a poem by Henri Cazalis in which "death is depicted as a fiddle player in an old graveyard on a cold night, making the skeletons dance with his fiddle music," Fallin said.

* "Funeral March of a Marionette" by Charles Gounod was used as the theme song for the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" television show, which Parker said was one of the scariest shows to ever appear on television.