November 1st, 2011

Creepy Reads for Dark, Winter Nights

I’d give almost anything to see the original Nightmare on Elm Street again for the first time. Not just for that first glimpse of a very young Johnny Depp, but for the opportunity to squeal like only a scared teenage girl can. These days, seeing Freddy Krueger’s tongue popping out of a phone makes me lunge for the Mercurochrome rather than my neighbor’s arm.  Glimpses out of the corner of your eye, déjà vu, coincidence, and fate all tingle my now adult spine with dark possibilities far more than a bloody knife. With my son’s football practices lasting well past sunset, I’ve been working to rediscover my timid inner self through the undercurrents of a subtle ghost story.  Here are a few titles I probably shouldn’t have read sitting in the car by myself:

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Those Across the River—Christopher Buehlman
The residents of Whitbrow, Georgia refuse to cross the river. Only a monthly sacrifice of two garlanded pigs sets foot on the other side, never to be seen again.  Researching his great-grandfather’s local plantation, WWI vet Frank Nichols votes to end this tradition, igniting the unquenchable revenge of those across the river.

Black Light—Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan
Buck can pull the most evil of spirits out of the air, trapping them deep in his core. The danger of madness is worth the glimpse of the Black Light and the chance to connect with his lost parents.  From the creators of the Saw movies, Buck’s search for the Something Horrible feels as deadly as it sounds.

The Man in the Picture—Susan Hill
Hanging on the wall of a Cambridge professor is a rather dark painting of an 18th century Venetian carnival scene. Looking closely, a visiting student spots a man in the picture dressed in modern clothes being propelled down a dark alley by two captors. Mesmerized by his pleading stare, the student tempts fate to uncover the man’s identity.

Property of a Lady—Sarah Rayne
Insanity, disappearances, and death follow the Dead Man’s Knock heard by visitors to Shropshire’s Charect House.  The knocking figure with no eyes is looking for Elvira.  Who is she and what will happen if her hiding place is found?

Floating Staircase—Ronald Malfi
The Glasgow’s new house in western Maryland comes complete with both a small lake and the ghost of the young boy drowned in its waters.  Or is the ghost the brother of homeowner Travis who also tragically drowned many years ago? Plagued by ghosts seen and unseen, Travis’ sanity begins to float just like the wooden staircase rising from the lake.

What are your favorite reads now that the days are growing shorter?


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October 26th, 2011

Mozart and the Angel of Death

Requiem_MozartWhen I was a teenager, my parents had the wisdom to give me a gift that I didn’t yet know I’d want. My love for Alanis Morissette and Red Hot Chili Peppers – the other two CDs I was given that year – has long since passed (RIP), but my gushing adoration for Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor lives strong.

Forgive me for being dramatic, but Requiem is truly the most powerful music I’ve ever heard. At times furious and zealous, then tender and solemn, Requiem is a fourteen-movement experience. When I saw the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra perform it, I was totally overwhelmed and emotional, much in the same way people get when they see Handel’s Messiah performed. The library’s copy of Requiem, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, has an urgency and command that makes it very compelling.

And the mystery behind the music makes listening to it all the more exhilarating. Exhausted and broke, 35-year-old Mozart is visited by a stranger dressed in gray. The stranger hands him an anonymous letter, commissioning him to compose music for a funeral. The request is given with a blank check, so despite Mozart’s misgivings, he’s in no position to decline. Even still, Mozart is struck by the chilling nature of the circumstances. Sickness befalls Mozart, making him increasingly convinced that the mysterious visitor was the Angel of Death himself. The taste of death is now on my tongue, and I can already smell the grave.*

The inexplicable foreboding proved prophetic. Mozart died that year, never completing Requiem, arguably one of his finest works. Thanks to Franz Süssmayr, Mozart’s protégée, the unfinished parts were completed.

The exact details of Mozart’s brush with “Death” have been subject of scholarly debate and artistic imaginings, most notably the play-turned-movie Amadeus. In Amadeus, the Angel of Death is Antonio Salieri, a fellow composer, embittered by Mozart’s success and talent. While it made for great drama, we now know that the commission actually came from Count Franz von Walsegg, an unscrupulous aristocrat who stole musical scores in order to feign authorship. In this case, the Count was mourning the loss of his wife and wanted a musical masterpiece written in her honor.

While you might not be familiar with its name, you’ve likely heard parts of Requiem many times. Here’s a short list of where you might have heard it:

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Movies: The Big Lebowski, Elizabeth, Eyes Wide Shut, Primal Fear, X2, Watchmen, and Amadeus

Want to know more? Place a hold on Amadeus (winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture) here online or ask our staff. Learn more about Mozart’s life and legacy in Jeremy Siepmann’s book Mozart: His Life & Music here. (CDs included!)

What are you listening to this time of year?

*words spoken to Sophie, Mozart’s sister-in-law


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