Are there secret powers at work that want to dominate us? Do they want to “chip” humanity to control it? Is the earth round or a disc? In recent months, conspiracy theories, superstitions and fears of various kinds have proliferated. Well, you can believe in them or not, here we will take a look at how composers have dealt with the phenomenon of superstition in the past. The occasion for this is the “Day of the Witch Craze” proclaimed on 10 August, which is to be commemorated worldwide.
Witches have always fascinated composers and poets and many works revolve around these beings. Fairy tales and legends are told and many a scary story is remembered from childhood. However, it should not be forgotten that the witch craze also claimed thousands of lives – mostly women. Tortured by the “embarrassing questioning”, quite a few confessed to having been involved with the devil. Those were dark times that I hope will not return. The Saga Candida by Bert Appermont deals with such an event, as does the first movement of the work Tales and Legends by the Swiss composer Etienne Crausaz.
Inspired by the novel by EVELINE HASLER, the work Anna Göldin by Jean-Claude Kolly gradually follows the tragic life of the alleged witch who was the last woman in Europe to be burned. Music with a lot of expression, in which the personal feeling of the events of that time plays a primary role. Tragic is also the novel by Ulrike Scheikert, which inspired composer Steven Reineke to write The Witch and the Saint. In it, a story is told in 1588 of a respectable landlord’s family to whom twin girls were born. While the virtuous Helena enters a convent, her headstrong twin sister Sibylla becomes a midwife. She learns the dark secrets of the powerful and becomes a danger. The Inquisition’s henchmen prepare for the witch hunt.
Classical composers such as Guiseppe Verdi with Ballet of Witches (from the opera Macbeth) approached the theme, as did Engelbert Humperdinck in his famous children’s opera Hänsel and Gretel. Edvard Grieg commemorated witches with In the Hall of the Mountain King and Giacomo Puccini with the Witch Dance from the opera Le Villi. Not to forget Modest Mussorgsky represented with his work The Night on Bald Mountain. Mussorgsky himself took no steps to publicise his masterpiece, and it was only after his death, when Rimsky-Korsakov searched through the huge pile of manuscripts, that the work resurfaced. Above the score, Mussorgsky gives a brief description of the story of Night on a Bald Mountain: The Gathering of the Witches, Their Gossip; The Procession of Satan; The Pagan Worship of Satan and the Witches’ Sabbath.
There are also friendly witches and witches who get up to all kinds of mischief. We have compiled here a list of works that have fallen prey to the witch craze.