Horrific music … True Music Horrors for Halloween

Not just as a form of entertainment, music has been used to make a statement, to send a message and to record a moment in history that shouldn't be forgotten. 

 Here a few pieces of music juxtaposed against the role they played through time:



Shostakovich – ‘Leningrad’ Symphony No. 7

Inspired by Hitler’s attack on Russia in 1941, Shostakovich dedicated his work to the city of Leningrad. The Leningrad premiere of the piece took place while the city was still under siege by Nazi forces. It soon became popular in the Soviet Union as a symbol of resistance to Nazi occupation and a memory of the estimated 27 million Soviet citizens who died in World War II.

On the evening of Sunday August 9 1942, the German artillery guns laying siege to Leningrad for a year were temporarily silenced by a classical concert being broadcasted live on the hastily rigged loudspeakers across the city’s frontlines.

The Leningrad premiere of Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony performed by a ragtag orchestra made up of musicians who were half dead from starvation. Although the siege would continue for another two years and claim the lives of close to a million civilians, captured German officers admitted that it was when they heard the Leningrad, as the Seventh Symphony became known, that they knew they could never defeat the city.



Franz Liszt - Les Préludes

By 1945, the use of music to fuel German morale reached a saturation level. For some reason, Les Préludes by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt — whose romantic works had, after all, influenced his son-in-law, Richard Wagner — was always used to accompany film footage of dive bombers. Les Préludes was also used as a signature theme for the Sondermeldung, or special announcements, that periodically interrupted normal radio programming to announce victories, after the reading of which a snappy contemporary march would be played.



Górecki – Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

One of the composers responsible for the post-war Renaissance of Polish music, Henryk Górecki and his 1976 Symphony No.3 features a solo soprano singing Polish texts in all three movements of the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. The second movement, on the other hand, was inspired by the words etched into the walls of a Gestapo prison by an 18-year-old girl during the Second World War. The words read:

"No, Mother, 

do not weep,

 Most chaste Queen of Heaven Support me always."



Messiaen - Quartet for the End of Time

French composer Olivier Messiaen wrote his ‘Quatuor pour la fin du temps’ when he was imprisoned in a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz, Germany (now Zgorzelec, Poland).

Premiered by Messiaen’s fellow prisoners in the camp – on ruined instruments, Messiaen later said of the performance: “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension”. It has come to be one of the composer’s most important works.



Irving Berlin – White Christmas

After almost twenty years fighting in Vietnam, the United States began to pull-out by April 1975.

The Americans knew that it was over.  Needing to evacuate about 1000 Americans – many of them civilians – and 6000 at-risk Vietnamese who would suffer if they were left behind, the American Embassy distributed a 15-page booklet called SAFE ((Standard Instruction and Advice to Civilians in an Emergency).

A map within the booklet indicated the assembly areas were helicopters would be able to land to pick people up.  An insert page read:

Note evacuational signal. Do not disclose to other personnel. When the evacuation is ordered, the code will be read on Armed Forces Radio. The code is: “The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising.” This will be followed by the playing of “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.”

On April 28, 1975, President Gerald Ford’s order arrived, launching Operation Frequent Wind, the term used for the final evacuation. The coded message went out: “The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising.” Then the wistful strains of White Christmas played on the radio.

In nineteen hours, 81 helicopters carried approximately 7,000 people to aircraft carriers offshore.