STM, privileged partner of the October 29 concert


Maison symphonique de Montréal
Ticket Prices
$42* to $86*
Concert dates
Thursday, October 29, 2015 - 10:30 AM Done
Thursday, October 29, 2015 - 7:00 PM Done
Kent Nagano, conductorchef d’orchestre
Marc Hervieux, tenor*ténor*

Presentation of the concert

Ives, Hallowe’en (approx. 3 min.)

Dukas, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (approx. 12 min.)

Dvořák, The Noonday Witch (approx. 14 min.)

Balakirev, Tamara (approx. 20 min.)

Saint-Saëns, Danse macabre (approx. 8 min.)

Mussorgsky, Night on Bald Mountain (approx. 12 min.)

To celebrate Halloween, Kent Nagano has created a musical program designed to evoke the mystery and suspense of the renowned Danse macabre by Saint-Saëns and Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky. It’s not for the faint of heart!

*Marc Hervieux and movie music excerpts will appear on the program for the concerts of October 29 at 7:00 p.m. and October 30 at 9:00 p.m. only. Marc Hervieux will perform two highly appropriate numbers: “This Is Halloween” taken from a Tim Burton film, and “I Put a Spell on You”, which has been heard in the cult movie Hocus Pocus¸ among other settings. Exceptionally, the concert of October 29 at 7:00 p.m will include an intermission.


When Queen Victoria hosted her infamous Windsor Palace séances, she was the unwitting participant in a sweeping 19th century vogue for all things supernatural. With the continuing rise of secular European society and a philosophical move away from the Enlightenment, Occultism gained a foothold in the popular consciousness. This tendency was apparent in the celebration of All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween – a night of costumed ribaldry previously reserved for the solemn remembrance of departed souls. Composers seized the opportunity to evoke elements of the macabre and supernatural in their music. Fascination with the sounds of horror and witchcraft continued into the 20th century, inspiring a rich tradition of horror- and occult-themed film scores.


Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) had long been possessed by the notion of a work based on the Russian legend of a witches’ Sabbath on St. John’s Eve. Completing a tone poem on the subject in 1867, the ecstatic Mussorgsky wrote to his friend Vladimir Nikolsky, “I did not sleep at night and I finished the work dead on the eve of St. John’s Day, something so seething in me that I simply didn’t know what was happening to me.” Night on Bald Mountain, heard here in Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1886 re-orchestration, opens to swirling strings and the repetitive rhythm of the maniacal chatter of the witches. Mussorgsky’s work culminates when “the witches’ praises had brought Satan to a sufficient frenzy, he would order the Sabbath to begin, during which he would pick out the witches who caught his fancy to satisfy his wants.”

Another Satanic figure dwells at the centre of Mily Balakirev’s (1837-1910) tone poem Tamara. Set in the rocky landscape of the Caucasus, the evil Queen Tamara lures travelling men to her castle on the River Terek with her irresistible beauty and angelic voice, only to passionately seduce and murder them, casting their bodies into the river to be borne away by the current the next morning. Balakirev’s score begins and ends with the undulating motion of the river, hinting at the cyclical nature of Tamara’s nefarious design. Two principal melodic themes represent Tamara’s songs of love, including a seductive passage for solo oboe and snare drum. Balakirev wrote Tamara over a 15-year period, during which time his friends at one point confiscated his sketches for fear he would destroy them. It was finally completed in 1882, and premiered the following year in a performance led by the composer.

Charles Ives’ (1874-1954) Hallowe’en, completed on April 1, 1907, but first performed publicly in 1934, is as much trick as treat. Though the composer himself admitted the piece was a bit of a “joke,” complete with an operatic send-up at the end, he was nonetheless quite proud of it from a technical standpoint. In this American take on the infamous night, Ives meant to express “the sense and sound of a bonfire… boys and children running around, dancing, throwing on the wood,” – more festive than terrifying. But if America was in need of terrifying music, it came in the form of Bernard Herrmann’s (1911-1975) scoring for the “shower scene” in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho. The shrieking strings of Herrmann’s The Murder have haunted many a homicidal nightmare ever since.

What gruesome tragedies befall a mother when her worst nightmare comes true? Based on Karel Jaromír Erben’s poem Polednice, Antonín Dvořák’s (1841-1904) The Noonday Witch (written and premiered in 1896) follows the story of a misbehaving child and an overwrought mother who threatens to summon a demon to silence him. Her stern warning becomes horrifying reality when the creature appears, and the mother, in a fit of fear, smothers her child to death. The music closely follows the narrative, beginning with a harmless sounding domestic scene interrupted by the whining child, impishly portrayed by the oboe. The ominous combination of bass clarinet and bassoon announces the witch’s arrival; she performs a dance, and a frenetic chase ensues. 12 strokes of the noon bell and a disturbingly triumphant flourish bring the piece to its close.


Another 12 strokes of the clock, this time intoned by the harp, set the midnight scene in Camille Saint-Saëns’ (1835-1921) fiendish Danse macabre. The composer took his inspiration from a poem by Henri Cazalis in which Death calls forth lost souls to the tune of his diabolic violin jig. Written in 1874 and first performed the following year, this work dates from an age when “All Hallows’ Eve” still struck a tangible sense of terror in the hearts of many. The infernal orchestration, including the use of xylophone to signify rattling bones and a passage borrowed from the Dies irae chant for the dead, only subsides when a rooster announces the break of day.

Familiar to most from the soundtrack to Disney’s 1940 animated film Fantasia, Paul Dukas’ (1865-1935) The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was written and premiered in 1897. In this vivid and dramatic musical retelling of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem Der Zauberlehrling, a hapless apprentice manages to charm a broom into magically carrying water, but soon finds himself overwhelmed by the efficacy of his own hex. The music evokes the marching broom and the apprentice’s swirling confusion as his plan gets out of hand. Also featured in Fantasia, Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685-1750), Toccata in D minor BWV 565 for organ conjures images of gothic castles and ghoulish villains, largely due to its use in the films Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) and The Phantom of the Opera (1962).


Marc Hervieux and movie music excerpts will appear on the program for the concert of October 29 at 7:00 p.m.

1993 was a good year for quirky Halloween fantasy films. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas features Jack, the Pumpkin King, whose theme song “This is Halloween,” by Danny Elfman (born in 1953) perfectly sums up a character who might “catch you in the back” or “scare you out of your skin.” Meanwhile, Bette Midler made “I Put a Spell on You,” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1929-2000), famous for a new generation with her comedic performance in Hocus Pocus.

No one could have predicted the craze for magic that swept the world after J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels hit the shelves in 1997. The movies that followed were just as popular, and John Williams’ (born in 1932) soundtrack, enchantingly summed up in the swirling phrases of Hedwig’s Theme, has become inextricably linked with the magical world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. No stranger to iconic film scores, Williams was also behind the unmistakably terrifying two-note motive that has become synonymous with “Shark Attack!” – the Jaws Theme.

To conclude the programme, lest the audience should leave these hallowed halls fearful of poltergeists and “things that go bump in the night,” Ray Parker Jr. (born in 1954), in his 1984 Dance-pop hit, knows exactly who to call – Ghostbusters!


© Marc Wieser

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