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Scary Music for God’s glory

Bach's Organ in Arnstadt

Bach’s Organ in Arnstadt

If you’ve ever needed spooky music, your mind might have wandered to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. (For that matter, if you can hum a piece of organ music, this is it.) It’s been used in everything from the opening of Disney’s Fantasia to Monty Python, from La Dolce Vita to Tales from the Crypt… and many, many more.  The piece is perhaps most associated with the movie The Phantom of the Opera; its use in that film and many other works of horror mean that its opening notes tend to make us feel spooked and scared.

My home parish, in a residential neighbourhood, opens its doors each Halloween evening to offer warm cups of cider and clean bathrooms to trick-or-treaters and their parents: some years, the organist has been playing spooky music and always included the Toccata.

Our own online community coordinator, Jesse Dymond, wrote me today that:

It has been my tradition to play it on the closest Sunday every year in the parish–while I was an official organist, and afterwards. This is the first year I haven’t had that opportunity. Tonight, at home, I guess.

He noted, too, that everyone always told him “how great Phantom of the Opera sounded”—forgetting that this piece, like all of Bach’s music was written for use in the church, and is music about Jesus. If only we could play it at other times of the year, too…

Bach had a habit of writing the letters AMDG near his name on all of his scores: “ad maiorem Dei gloriam” — “for the greater glory of God.” As you’re spooked, or trick-or-treating, or handing out candy this night, may all that you feel this evening, from spooked at music to delighting in adorably costumed wee children, make you rejoice in all that God has created!

Some of my favourite versions of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565):

What music do you find scary and inspiring for tonight?

Matthew Griffin

About Matthew Griffin

I'm a priest serving in the Diocese of Niagara, with both a pastoral and an academic interest in the relationship between liturgy and theology. I enjoy reading, cooking, and spending time with my beloved and our young son.
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0 Responses to Scary Music for God’s glory

  1. Matthew Griffin

    For an amusing assortment of versions of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d minor, check out this NPR blog post: http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/10/29/163701843/halloween-fright-five-versions-of-that-terrifying-toccata-and-fugue?ft=1&f=1039

    The toy piano version is surprisingly effective, and the digital visualization of the piece is fun to watch!

  2. I’ll admit, it was the arrangement in Disney’s original Fantasia that hooked me as a child. When I decided to tackle the organ, it was probably the first piece I considered a milestone goal. But for tonight, just about any spooky Bach piece will do.

    What about Vivaldi’s Winter I?

  3. I’ll admit, it was the arrangement in Disney’s original Fantasia that hooked me as a child. When I decided to tackle the organ, it was probably the first piece I considered a milestone goal. But for tonight, just about any spooky Bach piece will do.

    What about Vivaldi’s Winter I?

  4. I know we’ve moved on to All Saints, but a few more pieces came to me in the night:

    Night on Bald Mountain

    And of course, O Fortuna from Orff’s Carmina Burana.

    Spooky.

  5. Ali Symons

    I enjoyed this post, Matthew! It’s interesting to think of the connection between spookiness and awe of God.

    Out of all the pieces listed above, Vivaldi’s Winter 1 gets my vote for most chilling/thrilling.

  6. It’s incredible, isn’t it? As a side note, all of these pieces make incredible driving music: in the dark, in the rain, in the snow, etc. Just watch your speed. 😉

  7. Matthew – I picked up on your mention of your home parish church opening up on Halloween to offer cups of warm cider and bathroom breaks – what a great idea!  I’m going to put that forward for my church to try next year.   I am also a big fan of Vivaldi’s Winter – a wonderful, stirring piece of music, especially appropriate today as I look out my office window and watch the snow falling steadily here in Edmonton.

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