Tuesday, October 29, 2013

music for Halloween

It's about time that I got back to posting music clips. And as Halloween is in a couple of days - gotta make time today to carve the pumpkin - here is my all-time favorite scary Halloween music. It's the climactic movement of the Faust Cantata by Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998), a description of the scene when the Devil finally comes to git Faust.
Since it's in German, I'll give a précis, which is that a giant storm shakes Faust's house, strange disgusting snakes are seen, and Faust's voice is heard crying in anguish until it dies away. The following morning, when his students finally dare to peek inside, they find body parts strewn all over the room. Ugh!

I first heard this piece on a Swedish label sampler I picked up at a CD store in Bonn, Germany, for something like 5 Marks twenty years ago, and was instantly stricken. I mean struck. But this performance is much better, the finest I've heard. It's from a concert in the Czech Republic. The solo vocalist is Iva Bittová, who might be described as the Czech Laurie Anderson. She is quite fabulously expressive. By a quite amazing coincidence, because I didn't know this when I chose the video, Bittová is performing at the Freight in Berkeley - her own music, not Schnittke's - this Saturday. (Alas, I won't be there: I have something else to do.)

Caveat: Don't think you know anything about Schnittke's music from listening to this one rather Weillian piece. He was a Volga German (ethnic German from southern Russia) whose musical styles ran eclectically and unpredictably all over the map. This is one piece of his I enjoy greatly (the rest of the Cantata is not nearly so interesting); another that might appeal to newcomers is the Polyphonic Tango. His Piano Quintet is also extremely good in a "Shostakovich overload" mode. Other works I find impenetrably modernist. There's no predicting.

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