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Classical Album of the Week: BOO! Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal's Danse Macabre

October 28, 2019. It's Halloween time, when celebrations of all things scary mix in an oddly agreeable way with costumed children collecting candy door-to-door. Amidst all the theories of Halloween's beginnings and traditions worldwide, one thing we know: it's a time to bring out music that conjures spooky spirits. Our album of the week is Danse Macabre, performed by Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, conducted by Kent Nagano. 

Danse Macabre is a collection of favorite classical works inspired by the supernatural. They may not all have been written with Halloween in mind, but they fit the holiday with both lyrical sinister tunes and playful works.

The title track, Danse Macabre, was written by Camille Saint-Saëns in 1874 and conjures the rattling bones of skeletons emerging from their graves to dance.  When conductor Louis Langreé, was guest conducting The Philadelphia Orchestra in a program featuring Danse Macabre, he said that this kind of work is one that allows church organists to let loose.

"In the Danse Macabre, you have the Dies Irae (Latin for "day of wrath," used in Requiems), but turned into a grotesque waltz. So it's not only the pleasure to play that or to quote that, it's also the fun to make it completely weird."

The album also turns playful with Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice, based in 1897 on Goethe's poem Der Zauberlehrling. The musical story about an apprentice who charms a broom into carrying water, only to find that spell worked too well -- with endless buckets and brooms overwhelming the apprentice—became a popular hit with Disney's 1940 animated version in the film, Fantasia.

Other works on the album include Dvorak's The Noonday Witch, Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, Balakirev's Tamara, and Ive's Halloween. We wish you a fun-filled musical Halloween!

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.