A dissonant and hair-raising piece of modern
experimental classical music, composed by Krzysztof Penderecki in
1960. It is designed to be performed with 52 string instruments. It is
also designed to creep you the hell out.
Do you want to hear what this music sounds like?
Here it is. It's about 10
minutes long, so sit back and get comfortable.
Penderecki didn't use a traditional score to create this -- most
of it was put together with symbolic notation, which leaves a lot of
the details about performing -- what notes to play, how long to hold
them, how loud to play them -- up to the musicians. He originally
titled it 8'37" or 8'26" -- definite tribute to John Cage. But the
first time Penderecki heard it performed by musicians, he realized it
needed another name -- he ended up dedicating it to the people killed
in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and decided that it
qualified as a threnody, or hymn of mourning for the dead.
After he completed it, the Threnody won Penderecki third prize at
the Grzegorz Fitelberg Composers' Competition in Katowice,
Poland, attracted a lot of interest quickly, and has been considered
a modern classic ever since. It's been used in multiple movies, too --
most prominently in "The Shining," but also in "Children of Men"
and "The Hurt Locker."
There isn't a lot I can tell you about the score, because I
haven't seen a copy of it. There's not a lot I can tell you about the
musical techniques, because I don't understand them. But I can tell
you what this music sounds like.
It's a chorus of screams. It's an army of ghosts. It's orchestral panic and madness given voice.
You know those really bad nightmares you have sometimes? The
really scary ones that you do all you can to forget, that wake you up
with a scream in your throat, that leave you breathless and cowering
under your covers like a three-year-old, convinced that something's in
the room with you, something's standing over you, something's going to
touch you if you open your eyes for one single second?
The Threnody is the soundtrack of those dreams.
I am quite convinced that this is the scariest piece of music ever
created. The first notes put you on edge, and the intensity ratchets
upwards very quickly. It's not at all difficult to imagine this as the
musical accompaniment for the Hiroshima bombing -- aside from the
screaming, panicked strings, the sound of the players' rapping and
thumping the bodies of their instruments seems to suggest Japanese
Noh theater. It's no wonder it's been used as a horror movie
soundtrack either -- the sound is so eerie and threatening and
bizarre, it helps make any scene associated with it even more
This is a whole lot of words devoted to describing the music when
you'd probably be better served by actually listening to it.
So go listen.
Scariest. Music. Ever.