A fierce storm broods over a high mountain, thunder crashing around the valleys, and rain lashing everything in sight. In the dead of night, the bursts of lightning illuminate a bizarre scene: a coven of dancing witches cavorting under the stars, raising magickal power to send out into the storm to do their bidding.
Two star-crossed lovers make a pledge to live or die together, whilst their families rage and fight each other to prevent the couple ever being alone together. In the underground caverns of the Elf King, ensorcelled slaves toil for undying years at their work, to swell their master's coffers. A fiery Gypsy woman, scorned by the soldier she falls in love with, plans a terrible revenge on her seducer and his friends.
These are not suggested story lines from fantasy novels, or from science fiction films, or hyperbolic TV soaps. These are simple expressions of some of the most stirring and darkly enchanting music ever written. The fact that some of these pieces were written many hundreds of years ago does not invalidate them as works of searing genius. These musical expressions are still as valid today as they ever were when first composed. Themes of seduction, ill-fated love, redemption and revenge are still very much in the forefront of our minds, and they will always be a part of human (and inhuman) experience.
The Lothario is Mozart's Don Giovanni, the witches cavort for Mussorgsky in 'Night on the Bare Mountain', the lovers are Prokoviev's Romeo and Juliet, the slaves work in Grieg's 'Hall of the Mountain King', and the vengeful Gypsy is Bizet's Carmen. None of these compositions was written in most of our lifetimes, and yet we can still relate to their themes and characters, so why is classical music regarded so much as 'something that you get into when you're old'? (If by old you mean several centuries, I suppose that explains my fascination!)
Much famous classical music is actually quite dark and sinister – anyone familiar with Holst's 'The Planets' can vouch for this! – and although there is only one completely vampire inspired opera (Marshner's 1828 adaptation of Polidori's 'The Vampyre' – which we will of course explore in some detail in a future issue), all manner of supernatural and mythical entities have found their way into the scores of operas, concertos, serenades and songs over the years. Ghosts, elves, spectres, doppelgangers, witches, genies, goblins, trolls, unicorns, dragons, minotaurs, and all manner of gods, goddesses, legendary people and animals have danced and sung and been brought to life by classical music, opera and ballet.
In Bloodstone's new occasional series of articles, we shall be taking a fresh look at some of the dramatic figures of classical music, and some of their most haunting, bizarre and downright terrifying ideas, as expressed through their art. It is fair to say that music is one of two universal languages which anyone, from whatever culture or age they come, can understand to some degree (the other being visual symbols or sign language). Even without knowing anything about a composer, his work can stir emotions in the listener. Dramatic characters like Beethoven certainly believed this, and he utilised his unique talent to convey important messages to those who heard his music. The genius of Beethoven will be discussed at another time, but it suffices here to say that he used the language of music to express the violent emotions of his person and his age. Many 18th and 19th century composers did the same – their music reflects the upheaval of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the rise of imperialism and nationalism, and a deep enchantment with the romanticised past. One need only look at how many 19th century composers took mediaeval and ancient themes for their work – Rossini with William Tell, Prokoviev and Tchaikovsky with Romeo and Juliet, and Wagner with Nordic mythology serve as examples. And if the validity of such music at the end of the 20th century should be questioned, consider how many Black Metal bands cite Wagner, Grieg and the like as inspirations. Indeed, the proud nationalism of both these composers strikes a particular chord even now in a genre like Black Metal, with its obsession with folkloric history and legend, and its passionate desire to revive pre-Christian faiths which reflect a greater sense of national and ethnic identity than the modern global church of Christ allows.
To reclaim the importance of classical music should be the aim of all vampires, for what simpler way is there to keep our particular eras alive than through the music of that age? Classical music in its broadest sense encapsulates ten centuries of experience: war, love, passion, death, religion, nature, birth, magick, betrayal, loss and victory. From the simplest vocal arrangements of Gregorian monks to the rousing choruses of Italian operas to the bombast of full orchestral movements, the world of classical music is a fertile one to the listener with as open a heart as his/her ears.
Let go of the prejudices of the end of this century, and travel back in time to a land of feudal lords, mythology, romance and chivalry. Experience monastic life, castle life, royal court life, revolution and the birth and death of empires. Experience life – all of life – throughout the ages. For the gentlest introduction to some of the darkest classical music ever created, we approach Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a legend in his own lifetime, a man haunted by his own premonitions, poverty and disillusionment, and yet at the same time an enduring genius, whose creative output was simply astounding. Operas, chamber music, concertos, trios, quartets and quintets for every conceivable instrument of the orchestra, dances, masses and the requiem that cost him his own life. Slip back into the latter years of the 18th century, and see before you Salzburg, Vienna and a world terrified by the atrocities in neighbouring France as Europe cowers in the shadow of the guillotine...
see also on this site: Mozart
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