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Prokofiev's — Violin Sonata no. 1 in F minor.
Myaskovsky — Symphony 10
Britten — Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes
Pärt — Tabula Rasa
Shostakovich — Violin Concerto 1 in A minor
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Mind you don't stumble over these 13 in the dark.

Maurice Ohana's "In Dark and Blue"
Henri Sauguet's "Crepuscular Sonata"
"Central Park in the Dark" by Charles Ives
Einojuhani Rautavaara's "Angel of Dusk"
"Canti dell'eclisse" by Bernard Rands
Isang Yun's "Teile dich Nacht"
"El Decameron Negro" by Leo Brouwer
"The Song of the Night" by Karol Szymanowski
Edgard Varèse's "Nocturnal"
"Shadows" by Péter Eötvös
David Bedford's "Twelve Hours of Sunset"
Tōru Takemitsu's "Twill by Twilight"
"The Blackbird" - Einar Englund's Symphony No. 2


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Alfred Schnittke (1924-1998): Psalms of repentance (Penitential psalms) (1988), as recorded in 2017 by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, conducted by Kaspars Putniņš. With Raul Mikson (tenor), Maria Melaha (soprano), Karolina Kriis (soprano), Marianne Pärna (alto), Ave Hännikäinen (alto), Toomas Tohert (tenor).

This is undoubtedly one of the darkest albums in my collection.
From the CD liner notes:
In the last stage of his career, the composer, plagued by bad health, wrote some of his most fearful and challenging music. The Psalms of Repentance, completed in 1988 and premièred that December in Moscow, are dark indeed, but Schnittke never lets the last candle of faith be extinguished, and it is both the candle and the dark that fascinate us as we hear this work. Schnittke's wrote it to celebrate a thousand years of Russian Christianity. His choice of an unaccompanied chorus is appropriate, given the ban on instrumental music in the Byzantine church.
The anonymous texts come from 16th-century Russia. Their subjects range from Adam's grief over his expulsion from the Garden of Eden to a reflection on the historical fratricide in the year 1015 that gave rise to Russia's first saints. ECM's booklet prints the texts in Cyrillic, and then follows them with translations in English and German, so it is difficult to follow them and appreciate Schnittke's specific response to the words. From what one can deduce, however, the composer has responded to the texts with exquisite sensitivity. In spite of the intensely introspective and almost unrelievedly despairing subject matter, Schnittke's settings are full of color and variety, within appropriate boundaries. The composer had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1982, and the Psalms of Repentance, like the other spiritual works from the last phase of his career, are galvanized with a convert's fervor.
Stylistically, the twelve Psalms of Repentance are a blend of the old and new. The declamatory singing and open parallel chords of the Byzantine and Russian Orthodox churches can be heard in this work. Schnittke also treats the chorus instrumentally. At several points in the work the basses are asked to create a drone effect by singing with closed mouths. Modern techniques such as tone clusters and glissandi are used, but not gratuitously; they play specific expressive roles. On occasion, tenor soloists come to the fore, an effect that is almost cantorial. Because of their variety, the Psalms of Repentance do sound like a retrospective of everything that was rich and intriguing about Schnittke's writing.

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  1. Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, especially the first movement with its famous "fate" motif.
  2. Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, also known as the "Pathétique," which is known for its melancholy and tragic mood.
  3. Mahler's Symphony No. 6, which is often described as one of his darkest and most intense works.
  4. Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C-sharp minor, which has a hauntingly beautiful melody.
  5. Barber's Adagio for Strings, which is often used in movies and TV shows to convey a sense of sadness and loss.

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I know you tried to define 'dark' in your original post, but it really depends on what resonates with you. It also depends on whether you are attracted to Romantic era works or more contemporary composers.

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 6
Schoenberg: A Survivor from Warsaw
John Adams: On the Transmigration of Souls
Higdon: Blue Cathedral
Sibelius: Symphonies - I would tend to describe most of Sibelius' symphonies as 'stark', but they can also be interpreted as 'dark' depending on your perspective
If they click you could also look into some symphonies by Nielsen
Berg: Violin Concerto
Feldman: Rothko Chapel

Try some of the above on a streaming service and see what clicks with you, then explore other compositions by the same or allied composers.

P.S. 1: I actually would describe some of the suggestions above (Higdon's Blue Cathedral, Feldman's Rothko Chapel) as 'meditative' rather than 'dark' but again depends on your perspective.

P.S. 2: I also just realized that I listed Tchaikovsky's 5th and 6th Symphonies in both your 'happy' and 'dark' music threads, but to me they actually do fit in both. I adore his music and even his most pathos generating music invokes feelings of great pleasure in me. A great composer in my opinion.

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Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Beethoven, Ravel, Brahms (for choral especially).
91 Posts
Discussion Starter · #34 ·
Dark is a difficult word. Aside from adding the name Sibelius (the 4th symphony?) I tried to think of examples from before the 20th century. I guess Mozart's Adagio and Fugue in C Minor might be a good example and there are many dark moments in Mozart's music - the opening of the Requiem is another. For the Romantics we might think of quite a few works by Liszt, the last two movements of the Symphonie Fantastique and parts of the German Requiem. Also, I guess almost any setting of the Dies Irae in going to be necessarily dark.

Perhaps you are only looking for the 20th century? Tell me if my suggestions above are going anywhere of interest to you and I will think more thoroughly.
20th century seems to be the sweet spot in so far as the really heavy/dark stuff goes - but I wasn't constraining it to any time period, because I think you can find dark stuff in every period. More style - adagio, lots of heavy low end strings, minor keys, etc. - that's where it seems to just naturally point to some of the late romantic & 20th century composers.

German Requiem is a fabulous piece that is dark at some points to me, but also uplifting at others - that piece is a bit of a unicorn to me. Mozart's requiem is very dark, agree on that one. Great call out on Symphonie Fantastique, too.

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Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Beethoven, Ravel, Brahms (for choral especially).
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Discussion Starter · #36 ·
Some pieces that come to mind today,

--Penderecki: Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima:
--Britten, Serenade for tenor, horn & strings, V. "Dirge - This Ae Night" movement, as sung by Peter Pears:
--Persichetti: Symphony No.9 "Janiculum":
--Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8:
--Shostakovich Symphony No 8 (I find the opening to the Symphony no. 5 ominous & haunting too, etc.):
--Shostakovich, Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67:
--Shostakovich, Sonata for Violin and Piano, op. 134:
Dmitri Shostakovich - Violin Sonata [With score]
--Shostakovich, Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147:
Dmitri Shostakovich - Viola Sonata [With score]
--Sibelius Symphony No. 4 in A Minor:
Symphony No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 63: I. Tempo molto moderato, quasi adagio
--Scriabin: Piano Sonata No. 9, Op. 68 "Black Mass":
--Prokofiev, Piano Sonata No. 6:
Piano Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82: I. Allegro Moderato
--Orff: Carmina Burana - 1. "O Fortuna": Orff: Carmina Burana / Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi - 1. "O Fortuna"
--Suk: Asrael Symphony:
Josef Suk Asrael Symphony - Rafael Kubelík
--Koechlin, Symphony No. 2, Op.196--this is a ridiculously neglected work. Since the following live BBC recording made by Constantin Silvestri & the LSO, the Symphony No. 2 has never been recorded (unless you count his String Quartet No. 2, upon which Koechlin based the symphony): Charles Koechlin: Symphony No. 2
--Koechlin, Viola Sonata, Op. 53--I see this piece as another neglected 20th century masterwork:
Charles Koechlin - Viola Sonata, Op. 53
--Pettersson, Symphony No 9:
Allan Pettersson, Symphony No 9, Sergiu Comissiona
--Pettersson Symphony No.10:
Symphony No.10 - Allan Pettersson
--Pettersson: Violin Concerto No. 2:
Allan Pettersson * Concerto n. 2 per violino ed orchestra
What a list, thank you so much! Will be digging into a lot of these over the next few days. Appreciate you.

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Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Beethoven, Ravel, Brahms (for choral especially).
91 Posts
Discussion Starter · #37 ·
Tenebrae [Latin for darkness] or Leçons de ténèbres, that is settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah by French baroque that were apparently sung in special services in barely lit churches during Holy Week. There are some by Charpentier, Couperin and others. And while usually not called Tenebrae, these same Lamentations have been set many times, famously by Lassus, Tallis, A. Scarlatti, Krenek and many others.
Thank you! Will dive into these for sure.

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Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Beethoven, Ravel, Brahms (for choral especially).
91 Posts
Discussion Starter · #39 ·
I was champing at the bit to mention Sibelius's Symphony No. 4, but @Josquin13 already got there. I don't think Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13 "Babi Yar" has been mentioned, but I perceive it as dark, though others might propose brighter interpretations. Mahler's Kindertotenlieder of course come to mind, too.
I have yet to listen to Babi Yar completely through Shostakovich's 12th so far in terms of digesting his entire symphony cycle. I find he has some of the darkest stuff in his work, but it's usually mixed in as he frenetically jumps from theme to theme (in a way that only he could pull off) - it's all just brilliant stuff, in my mind. I'll check out the Mahler piece you suggested, too, many thanks.
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