The darker side of classical music version, original link:

Classical music is a genre of music that touches on all emotions man is capable of feeling, some of which can only be evoked through the power of music itself. It can be difficult and even deceptive to pin the general feel of a piece of music under one label since there are so many different feelings constantly churning to the surface; peace and action, happiness and sadness, light and darkness. The deepest meanings, and therefore the most real are contained in these contrasts. While there are thousands of web pages devoted to dark music, I have yet to find one dedicated to only dark classical music. This is exactly what I am presenting here.


  • Symphonies 6, 7, 8, 9 and 15
  • Concertos for String Orchestra 1, 2 and 3

Almost everything Pettersson wrote tended to be dark and gloomy. Certainly everything I have heard from the composer tends toward this direction. You should definitely look into symphonies six though nine if you are interested in hearing something from the composer. I consider these symphonies to be some of the best of the 20th century. The sixth symphony is my favorite, and probably the saddest and most overwhelming piece of music I know. The seventh and eighth are some of Pettersson’s best known works. The earlier symphonies are difficult to define. I have not heard the fourth at this time, but the second and third often have a rather patchwork feel to them and although they seem to be driven, rarely does one feel it is toward a particular end. Often times the music is good but there is not as much memorable material as what is found in the later works. The fifth symphony, while not on the same level as what came afterwards, definitely has a similar voice and is one of my personal favorites. Much of the late symphonies are good also, they are often much more turbulent and angry. The general attitude of symphonies ten, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen is bitterness, defiance and largely unresolved conflict. Here we actually find less consolation after great struggles and more anger.

The concertos for string orchestra are some of Pettersson’s lesser-known works, containing much the same darkness found in the symphonies. The second movement of the third concerto has been recorded a couple times and the third concerto seems to be the best known of the three. For some time the first concerto was not available, fortunately CPO has released all three concertos on a two disc set. Concertos one and two often remind me of a Shostakovich string quartet, both in mood and general sound and texture. The third is definitely worth a listen and it’s as long as the first two put together (about an hour). For my main page on Allan Pettersson, describing his life and works in more detail, click



  • Symphony 4
  • Lemminkäinen Suite

Much of the music Sibelius wrote tends to have a cold and austere tone to it. His inspiration was his environment, the raw and harsh weather and landscape of Finland. The fourth symphony is well-known for its darkness and is one of his best. The first and third movements of the symphony contain some of the most bleak music you will ever hear. Indeed, I have always felt the music of this symphony is so dark in fact that it rarely touches on more tender emotions such as melancholy and personal tribulations. This work portrays the harshness of nature first and foremost, or that is what I get from it at least. With the third symphony Sibelius was speaking with his own distinct voice, and with the fourth his own style seemed to be firmly established. The Lemminkäinen Suite also contains much of the same darkness found in the fourth. The movement titled "Lemminkäinen in Tuonela" is very stormy and exciting. The movement, "Swan of Tuonela" is one of his most famous pieces. It has a calmer and more melancholy mood with its famous long solo from English Horn over low bass. I have always felt much of Sibelius’s music has a tinge of coldness even in its most happy and carefree moments. This can be seen in just all the symphonies he wrote. Click

here to see my main page on Sibelius.


  • Symphonies 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14
  • String Quartets 3, 5, 6, 8, 13, 15
  • Piano Trio 2, Violin Concertos 1 and 2, Cello Concerto 2, Two pieces for String Octet

Shostakovich is another composer who, like Pettersson, has a name that is often synonymous in peoples minds with dark and grim music. The fifth symphony is one of his best, if not the best he ever wrote. Although it has a triumphant finale, some believe it is a triumph of evil over good instead of good over evil. This is because the government required (or tried their best to require) Shostakovich to write music that was heroic and triumphant, focusing on celebration of communism and Soviet nationalism. The triumph at the end of the fifth symphony is like someone holding a gun to your head and telling you to smile in spite of everything. The first three movements of the work are all very bleak and often touching and beautiful.

The sixth has a slow, dark first movement with two short, upbeat movements afterwards. The fourth symphony is known for its raging violence although it has a great amount of contrast in it overall. Symphonies eight, ten and eleven are all dark statements and are also some of his best. The eleventh is a very loud and violent work, representing a massacre of innocent workers in 1905 and later a revenge at the conclusion. The thirteenth symphony uses a men’s choir and fourteenth uses a male and female singer. The fourteenth has a feel of being more of a chamber work than a symphony and is probably Shostakovich’s darkest piece of music, certainly in his symphonic repertoire. In a series of eleven songs, the focus is on death without a real sign of hope at all.

Shostakovich’s string quartets are some of the most personal pieces of music he ever wrote. The majority of them (especially the late ones) focus on gloomy emotions, but the real meanings are so much deeper and introspective. The eighth string quartet is well-known for being one of the most grim and emotional pieces of chamber music ever written. The second Piano Trio is an incredible piece of music, very dark and written in dark times of Shostakovich’s life. Both of the violin concertos and the second cello concerto are also worth checking out.


  • Symphonies 6 and 9
  • "Dias Lied Von Der Erde"

Mahler’s music can always be expected to have a wide range of emotions. Every symphony he wrote has its share of dark moments except for the fourth perhaps. The sixth is subtitled "Tragic" although Mahler himself did not name it that. The final movement of the symphony, lasting around half an hour, is meant to express the downfall of the "hero" of the work. This is done through three great hammer blows. "Dias Lied Von Der Erde" is an incredibly touching piece of music, also quite dark written in six movements for contralto and tenor. If you can open yourself to this piece you cannot help to be extremely moved. Buy the copy on Decca with Ferrier, or if you must have stereo try EMI’s recording by Klemperer. The real dark piece here is the ninth symphony. While parts of the work contains some of what many consider Mahler’s happiest music, the final twenty minute movement contains some of the saddest music you will ever hear. The entire symphony focuses on death, and the struggles with confronting death. It is a real shame to me as much as the early death of Mozart that Mahler died not long after composing the work. His tenth remained unfinished. Like I say, open yourself to it and it will do the rest, the ninth is among the most "honest" and "real" pieces of music ever written.


  • Symphonies 1, 2 and 5
  • Violin and Cello Concertos
  • Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima

To be completely honest, I have not heard anything from Penderecki that is not incredibly dark, but here I have listed some of his best music that is more well-known. In his early period Penderecki wrote music much in the avant-garde style. Everything from this period was incredibly dark and often downright disturbing and terrifying, making use of incredibly high strings, air raid sirens, broken glass, blocks of wood, fog horns and typewriters among other things. "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" is meant to represent the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. It is a harrowing and piercing piece of music that deserves to be heard. The first symphony is also a good example of Penderecki’s early avant-garde music, less disturbing than "Threnody," but certainly interesting in its own regard.

In the 1970s Penderecki changed his style, abandoning the avant-garde style for a more traditional one. The darkness of his music did not diminish however, it is only expressed in more traditional ways. The second symphony is probably his most famous. The fifth is my favorite, it has a sound and atmosphere very much in the vein of Allan Pettersson with times of great anger contrasted by refrains of sadness. The violin and cello concertos are also worth looking into, like the symphonies, these are incredibly dark and intense worlds. To date I have not heard the first cello concerto, but I imagine it has much the same atmosphere as the second one. All of the works mentioned here except for the violin and cello concertos can be bought on the Naxos label for very cheap and the recordings are generally excellent. There is also a release on EMI called "Matrix 5" that contains a great collection of Penderecki’s best avant-garde music.

Vaughan Williams

  • Symphony 4, 6 and 7

Vaughan Williams seventh symphony was written to be used in a film about travelers to Antarctica, but it is certainly no mere "soundtrack" as we known them today. Sometimes the music expresses great beauty and peace, other times it has an incredible power and turbulence. The fourth symphony is loud and angry. It is probably Vaughan Williams most violent symphony. The sixth tends to be more calm in tone but darker with its quiet second and fourth movements especially focusing on dark, meditative music. Of those listed here the seventh is the best place to begin with this composer.


  • Symphony 6

The sixth is probably Tchaikovsky’s most famous symphony and also his most tragic. It is entitled "Pathetique," which means "passionate" and "full of emotion." While symphonies in the past had often started in despair and struggled toward light and happiness, that is not to be found here. This symphony starts out dark, struggles and has its happier moments, but ends in complete and utter desolation with its "fate theme" pulling the listener further into darkness. What makes the entire experience of listening to the work even sadder is that Tchaikovsky committed suicide nine days after conducting the first performance of the work. It definitely deserves to be among the best and most touching symphonies of the Romantic era.


  • Hebridean Symphony

Bantock’s Hebridean Symphony is a fascinating and powerful piece of music. Lasting for half an hour, there are moments of violence and storm, contrasted with moments of great lyricism, beauty and peace. Do not expect too much introverted anguish as you will find in Mahler or Shostakovich, this music is much more in the vein of Sibelius, telling a tale of mysterious and often unpredictable nature.


  • String Quartets 13 and 14 "Death of a Maiden"
  • Wintereese

Schubert’s 13th and 14th string quartets are both dark works and are some of the best quartets he wrote. Wintereese is a series of songs for tenor and piano about the tribulations of one lover hopelessly trying to reach the other. This is probably Schubert’s most bleak composition. Other dark music you may want to check out from Schubert is his unfinished 8th symphony.


  • Isle of the Dead

It does not take a very attentive listener to know that there is melancholy in much of Rachmaninov’s music. As for the Isle of the Dead, one could not ask for a more moving piece of music than this. Not only is it dark, but it also allows for tender and beautiful moments to shine through in many parts. It also has its share of powerful climaxes and romantic swoon, but ends by trudging farther and farther into utter darkness. All of this takes place within twenty minutes. The work was inspired by Brocklin’s painting "Isle of the Dead," which Rachmaninov saw a black and white print of, later he said that the actual color painting did not have the same power.


  • Symphonies 2, 3

Honegger’s 3rd symphony is one of his best. The first movement is driven and turbulent, the second movement has some good moments of profound beauty and sorrow. The third and final movement begins very stormy like the first but eventually turns calm with a mood much like the previous movement and ends peacefully. The second symphony is less dark, but is comparable to the third. The second is written strictly for string orchestra and often has a very driven and energetic sound to it.


  • Symphony 3

This symphony titled the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" is one of the most famous symphonies today. From what I understand, parts of it have been used in a few movies. I know for a fact that music from the first movement was used in "Fearless" with Jeff Bridges (an excellent movie by the way). It has three movements, all are largos. The first movement is thirty minutes, the second is around ten minutes and the last is a little over twenty minutes. The first movement builds up over a period of fifteen minutes and then the soprano enters. The emotion is completely overwhelming. In the last ten minutes of the first movement the music goes into a slow decline and gradually ends. The second and third movements are too repetitive for my tastes, especially the third. If you hate minimalism you may wish to avoid this work, but I rarely enjoy minimalism but certainly would not reject this work based on that.


  • Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565, Passacaglia and Fugue in G minor BWV 542

Bach has an incredibly large output, and it is a little difficult to think of specific works that would fit on this list of "dark music," but I cannot leave him off. Just about everything Bach wrote tends to be very serious in nature at the very least. The works listed are a few of my favorites, both for organ. Almost anything Bach wrote for organ that is in minor is usually always incredibly dark and powerful just because of the nature of the organ itself. Definitely check out these works or you haven?t really heard what music can really do.


  • Symphonies 5, 7 and 9

Arnold is a rather new composer to me. Both the seventh and ninth symphonies are dark worlds. While the ninth has a very long and sad last movement, the seventh is more stark and violent. Often it seems that the work is either very calm and foreboding or very loud and fierce. The first two movements of the fifth are largely a contrast between beautiful, yet uneasy peace and turbulent darkness. The third movement is more lively and upbeat while the fourth contains much conflict. Eventually the main theme from the second movement reappears and the symphony comes to a dark quiet close.


  • Adagio for strings

This music has been used in a number of films over the years and is pretty well-known even outside of the realm of classical music. The piece is powerful and emotionally driven, expressing sadness and anguish, but also great peace and beauty. Certainly this is a work one must hear if you are a fan of adagios.


  • Symphony 2

Bax’s second symphony is his darkest and one of his most original. Generally (especially in the first movement) it reminds me of the sound world found in Sibelius’s darker music. It is a very unique and "naturesque" piece, probably my favorite from the composer.


  • Piano Quintet

From what I understand, almost all of Schnittke’s music is very dark and bleak. I have not heard a lot of his music at this point, but from what I have heard so far I have to agree that this is true. The Piano Quintet is one of his most famous works. Within its twenty five minute scope the listener is carried through a dark, grim landscape. At times the music is quiet and meditative, then loud and terrifying at others. Fans of Penderecki will be right at home with this music.


  • Passio, Tabula Rasa, Cantus in the Memory of Benjamin Britten

Everything Part writes tends to be very spiritual and in the realm of minimalism. The music has a feeling of being very simple with a beauty to it that is fragile and tender. "Passio" is a work about the final days of Jesus. I doubt you will ever hear a piece of music so long and sad, the problem is that this work is quite repetitive. "Tabula Rasa" is probably Part’s most famous work. It is a violin concerto (sort of) and the first movement is excellent with its slow build-ups and a seeming battle between violin and piano toward the end. This is the work I would suggest starting with if you are new to the composer. "Cantus" is another, shorter work that Part is known for.


  • Cantus Arcticus

Rautavaara’s "Cantus Arcticus" is his most famous work, written for orchestra with pre-recorded bird sounds. The piece has a tender sadness and scenic beauty about it.[:en]Original link:

Classical music is a genre of music that touches on all emotions man is capable of feeling, some of which can only be evoked through the power of music itself. It can be difficult and even deceptive to pin the general feel of a piece of music under one label since there are so many different feelings constantly churning to the surface; peace and action, happiness and sadness, light and darkness. The deepest meanings, and therefore the most real are contained in these contrasts. While there are thousands of web pages devoted to dark music, I have yet to find one dedicated to only dark classical music. This is exactly what I am presenting here.