Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Bach and Halloween

on October 19, 2022

How did Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565 become a staple among Halloween favorites? After all, Bach lived 300 years ago and wrote high brow classical music during the high Baroque Period — not exactly popular music for pranksters and merry-makers. And yet, this organ masterpiece has become associated with Halloween as surely as dark, haunted mansions and creepy carved pumpkins.

Bach wrote it in two parts. The first part, the Toccata (from the Italian toccare, meaning “to touch”), was meant to show off the performer’s skill as a virtuoso organist, so it is characterized by many arpeggios (broken chords) and light-fingered gymnastics up and down the keyboard. The second part, the Fugue, uses repetition in various keys (“voices”) to highlight a central musical theme. A minor scale was used to give the piece a dark, ominous, foreboding, and dramatic tone. Organs have a deep, rich, and powerful quality, so writing such a magnificent piece for the organ (especially a large, full-bodied organ with pipes) was sheer genius.

Movie audiences were introduced to Bach’s piece in the opening scenes of the 1940 animated Disney classic, Fantasia. Instead of using the organ, however, conductor Leopold Stokowski arranged the piece into an orchestral number. But the music became associated with horror films when it was used in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), Gremlins 2 (1990), and The Babadook (2014). And, truthfully, if you ask music lovers what images come into their minds while listening to Bach’s organ piece, many will tell you that they envision ghostly encounters in haunted houses, mist-covered cemeteries, scary pumpkins, mad organists in Gothic churches, and vampires and other creatures of the night.

But experience it for yourself!

(Organ version performed by Hannes Kastner)

(Orchestral version from the 1940 animated film, Fantasia, arranged and conducted by Leopold Stokowski)

Have a spooky day!

Dawn Pisturino

October 19, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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22 responses to “Bach and Halloween

  1. revruss1220 says:

    I love this piece! But I have to admit, I prefer the “organ only” version. I’ve heard it in a large church on a full pipe organ and it just sends chills up and down your spine. Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. utahan15 says:

    will we forgive walter for j f bach?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Iowa Life says:

    One of my favorites. Funny the emotions they can elicit through sound.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. elvira797mx says:

    Wow! Wonderful post! Bravo Dawn! Thank’s for share.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Girl Dawn, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565 definitely makes you think about the image of a vampire playing the organ during Halloween! Where is that Vincent Price with his voice over? LOL 🧛🏼‍♀️👻🧛🏼‍♂️ Thanks for sharing such an entertaining piece of Bach’s musical history! 🎶🎹🎵

    Liked by 1 person

  6. balladeer says:

    Loved it! Very educational!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. kvbclarke says:

    Bach anything is strangely soothing for me. Even the Toccata. Thanks for bringing Bach into the light.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. […] Bach and Halloween — Dawn Pisturino’s Blog […]

    Liked by 1 person

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