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It’s Halloween, again, a night of spooks, scary lights, and eerie bumps that break through the veneer of the preternatural, skewered by ultimate strangeness. If unprotected, terror ensues.

Such fascination in the preternatural has seized artists’ imaginations from all times, including the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky. A chronic alcoholic, his musical genius must have been darkened, his concentration splayed as he struggled to make sense of the madness consuming his spirit—So much so that he succumbed to an early death, not without his friend Rimsky-Korsakov sprucing up his unfinished works and accrediting them to him.

One of these was his early tone poem A Night on Bald Mountain; it premiered in St. Petersburg, 1886. A terror-inducing otherworldliness assaults the audience as the witches’ ritual on the bleak mountaintop begins; their intent, to conjure up the devil. The blistering, grating, scoffing score triumphs in the nakedness of evil. Breathless, cringing, clammy hands break apart the ordinary. Rubbing eyes does not help.

However, after ten minutes of such nastiness, there is resolution of some kind: a calm glassy sea, in my perception.

So no matter what seems to disturb us, whether in dream or daylight living, there is a response. Even Mussorgsky found his way out, not without leaving behind musical compositions still played by symphony orchestras around the world.

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