Classical Funeral Music for a Beautiful Goodbye

Published January 25, 2021
Conductor with baton leading orchestra

Plato wrote, "Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything." There is a genre of music that touches every emotion that a human is capable of feeling. Nothing speaks to the soul's grief and mourning with quite the same language as classical music. The genre, often performed without words, moves the spirit through the flight of emotions of bereavement. Here are some amazing compositions of classical funeral music that will provide the setting for a beautiful goodbye for your loved one.

Ave Maria by Franz Schubert

Whether a moving instrumental interpretation or a stunning rendition with lyrics, Ave Maria is an example of exactly what music should do during the funeral ceremony. Because it is a musical adaptation of the Roman Catholic Prayer, it evokes the memories and comfort found in the rock of the Scriptures and the traditions of the church. Schubert's tune moves through a calming of troubled emotions and brings them to a place of hope. It has been performed at countless funerals, including the one of President John F. Kennedy.

Pie Jesu by Andrew Lloyd Webber

The best-known part of Lloyd Webber's Requiem remains the "Pie Jesu." Requiem premiered in 1985, a relatively young work in the arena of classical music. The composer of many musicals, Webber penned the piece in memory of his father, William Lloyd Webber, who passed away in 1982. The music is typical Lloyd Webber, blending an almost pop-style with sophisticated and reverent forms. The texts provoke familiar religious traditions, while the music stirs deep within the soul. Requiem won the 1986 Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition.

Promenade by Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky

Mussorgsky (1839-1881) was one of five Russian composers who had a common goal of creating a nationalist school of Russian music. Known particularly for his opera Boris Godunov and the piano piece Pictures at an Exhibition, Mussorgsky's peasant life and military background created vivid and insightful music reflecting the Russian people and the strong structure of organization. While not known for funeral music, his relatively small amount of work has had an incredible influence upon later composers of many nationalities. The "Promenade" movement of Pictures at an Exhibition was meant to reflect artwork on display in a museum and creates the same introspection when remembering a loved one's life.

Trauermusik by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart composed several ceremonial works for the Masonic lodges to which he was a member. This piece was written in response to the two deaths of lodge brothers on consecutive days. The music was written for oboe, clarinet, basset-horn, contrabassoon, horns, and strings. The result is haunting with its majesty. Herbert Glass, former music columnist for the Los Angeles Times, called it "five minutes of anguished grandeur." Another selection credited to Mozart that would make an outstanding choice is "Lacrimosa," which means "weeping." Only the first eight bars of the music were finished by Mozart before his own death.

Second Movement, Largo by Anton Dvorak

The particular piece is from the Czech composer's ninth symphony. The movement was inspired by Native American and African-American spiritual songs. Sections of the second movement inspired William Arms Fisher to adapt it into a song called, Goin' Home in 1922. The lyrics for that tune would also make a meaningful funeral song.

Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber

Barber (1910 - 1981) was arguably the most gifted American composer of his generation. Most of his compositions featured strings, particularly the violin and cello. The unique sound of the string creates touching and somber moments for the listener. This piece has been played at the funerals of Albert Einstein, Princess Diana, and United States presidents Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. This adagio has a profound effect on its listeners.

Air on a G String by Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach was a German composer and musician during the Baroque period. The piece has a gentle pulsing rhythm throughout. The strings run the gamut of emotions with their simple melodies and swelling volumes. The result is a peaceful, yet haunting composition. Above all else, the music is Bach.

Adagio Lamentoso by Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893) was a Russian composer during the Romantic period. His music has always had a great appeal for its harmonies and tuneful melodies. His work includes 7 symphonies, 11 operas, 3 ballets, 5 suites, 11 overtures and more than 100 other songs and piano pieces.

String Quartet No. 14 by Ludwig van Beethoven

One of the last compositions from this famed composer, the piece was written a year before Beethoven's death. His music continued to be amazing, even after losing his hearing and being confined to bed. This presentation was written in a minor key, which adds to the solemn, dark nature of emotions that are stirred in the listener. This is one of Bach's most recognizable melodies and is a popular choice for classical funeral music. The slow, steady pace captures emotion in every note.

Funeral March by Frederic Chopin

A funeral or death march is an integral part of many funeral ceremonies. Classical music provides the perfect option for this need. The most popular funeral march is by the amazing composer, Chopin. This particular piece has been played at funerals around the world, which adds to its aura and unifying spirit.

Other Classical Works Worth Considering

The list of classical music that is appropriate for use during a funeral ceremony is almost endless. Here are a number of other good choices that can help create the proper mood during a traditional, respectful service.

  • Canon in D - Pachelbel
  • "Nimrod" from Enigma Variations - Elgar
  • The Four Seasons - Vivaldi
  • The Funeral March of a Marionette - Gonoud
  • Pie Jesu - Fauré
  • Adagio - Albinoni
  • Mass in B Minor - Bach
  • River of Light - Roberts

Timeless Tradition

Classical music is a genre of music that almost transcends time. Choosing classical funeral music sets the atmosphere for mourning and remembrance that is traditional and filled with music that touches the soul. The impact of the beautiful music will be long lasting upon the audience and honor your loved one in a special way.

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Classical Funeral Music for a Beautiful Goodbye