Dum-da-da-dum. Those ever creeping tinkling two notes, descending then falling back, on the piano keys….like the Jaws theme as played by a child on one finger. Over and over, rising and falling, just two notes apart. Then an octave higher, the same thing. Then lower, portending something truly awful. Ominous, compelling, infantile. Then just as you’re lulled…ping! A whole new octave: one note, repeated again and again, almost absent-mindedly, as if a dead, wizened hand were being dropped on the same high key, over and over, and at a maddeningly increasing clip. Until finally it rests, possibly dead, on the keys.
For anyone still haunted by that moodily childlike piano repetition from Eyes Wide Shut, it’s worth mentioning that its creator, the great Hungarian-Jewish composer György Ligeti, has died this week at age 83, in Vienna. The composer of a hoard of wildly harrowing, existentially terrifying a cappella pieces and cacophonous chamber music, Ligeti is perhaps best known in these circles for the triumvirate of Kubrick films that utilized his work, especially those mournful, mouth-agape musical wails in 2001: A Space Odyssey, taken from Ligeti’s longer orchestral work, “Atmosphères.” Similar pieces were used in The Shining to accompany dreadful images such as the slaughtered twin girls’ first appearance in the game room. Always small, insinuating, before growing to a deafening pitch, Ligeti’s themes have scored some of Kubrick’s most indelible, troubling images, and subsequently, many of my nightmares as well.