Death in Classical: which works move you?

November 25, 2015 at 07:25 PM ·

I just finished writing "Death in classical music: making friends with the unfriendly." The thought occurs to ask this erudite and candid board: which works in this category move you?

(I got some superb answers a while back when I presented the same question re Obscure Composers.)

Happy Thanksgiving to you. JS

Replies (41)

November 25, 2015 at 07:37 PM · Lachrymosa from the Mozart Requiem.

On a personal note, the Largo from Dvorak's New World Symphony, but that has more to do with associations than with its musical content--I played the theme from it at my grandfather's funeral and years later at my father's.

November 25, 2015 at 07:37 PM · double post, sorry

November 25, 2015 at 08:01 PM · I'm really partial to the Libera Me from Faure's Requiem

Gets me every time

I kind of think of a lot of Faure's late output in terms of death, and a sort of peaceful acceptance of it. The string quartet and piano quintets are great pieces. Late Brahms is really autumnal in that same kind of way.

The Poulenc Oboe Sonata was written in memory of Prokofiev, and the violin sonata was dedicated to the memory of the poet Garcia Lorca, and then the last movement was changed in memory of Ginette Neveu - I find those to be very moving.

November 25, 2015 at 08:24 PM · Chopin's Sonata No. 2 (Op. 35), of course.

...and Mozart's Requiem.

November 25, 2015 at 09:08 PM · Death and the maiden.

November 25, 2015 at 09:30 PM · Shostakovich Chamber symphony op. 110 (rewritten 8. Quartett) - among other above mentioned gems of course.

November 26, 2015 at 12:17 AM · Let me first give a list of some which DON'T move me:

Franz Liszt: Totentanz

Saint-Seans: Danse Macabre

Elgar: Dream of Gerontius

Dvorak: Requiem

Prokofiev: Death of Tybalt

Strauss: Vier letzte Lieder

Lutoslawski: Funeral Music.

The Polka from Schwanda the Bagpiper is fun, but it doesn't MOVE me that much.

Ones which do (sometimes):

Bach (supremely): Es ist vollbracht

Schubert Op 1 (If you don't know which that is, I leave you to look it up - You might be as surprised as I was to find it as Op 1!)

Brahms: Schicksalslied;Herzlich tut mich verlangen Prelude (second version); Vier ernste Gesänge

Mozart: Recordare

Verdi: Dies Irae

Purcell (slightly): Dido's Lament

Mendelssohn: 6th Organ Sonata Last Movement

Handel: I Know That My Redeemer Liveth

Walton (slightly): Death of Falstaff

Beethoven (slightly): Elegischer Gesang

I agree about the Faure String Quartet.

November 26, 2015 at 12:43 PM · In no particular order,

Elgar: "Nimrod" from the Enigma Variations

Victoria: Missa pro Defunctis

Bach: St Matthew Passion "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden"

November 26, 2015 at 01:40 PM · - Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, esp. the 2nd movement ("Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras")

- Purcell, Funeral Sentences (esp. Thou knowest Lord, the secrets of my heart)

- Purcell, Hear my prayer

- Mozart, Requiem

- Handel, Funeral March from "Saul"

- Bach BWV 56 "Komm o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder"

- Bach, O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden

- Lo jardi de la mort (Death's Garden), a song by catalan composer Bernat Vivancos, sung by Nuria Rial. I found this little gem a while ago on YouTube and both text and are hauntingly beautiful (

November 26, 2015 at 03:24 PM · Also:

Schumann Piano Quintet the second movement.

November 26, 2015 at 03:50 PM · Alban Berg Violin Concerto

November 26, 2015 at 10:28 PM · Allegri Miserere - I'm going to leave a note to have them play it at my funeral, with a warning that things are going to get churchy.

"They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad that I'm going to miss mine by just a few days." -- Garrison Keillor

November 27, 2015 at 03:03 AM · Mahler 6th. Very few things are as moving as that last movement. Utterly hopeless and gloomy, despite all the beautiful and valiant musical "fights."

November 27, 2015 at 11:02 AM · Another vote for Dido's Lament.

Bach A minor concerto slow movement feels very elegiac to me.

November 27, 2015 at 12:02 PM · Another vote for the Mozart Requiem, especially the end of the Confutatis. I always feel I need a 5 minute break after this - fortunately there's a natural break after the Lacrymosa (also mentioned above).

And another vote for Bach Es Ist Vollbracht. Listen to Fischer-Dieskau sing it, if you can bear it....

Not explicitly about death, but in the same territory for me - the slow movement of Schubert's string quintet, and the first movement of Beethoven's quartet Op131.

November 27, 2015 at 06:42 PM · At my own funeral I want a Champagne toast with the accompaniment of Beethoven, Symphony 7, Allegretto, 2nd movement.

For me, the first half represents death

followed by a literally, heart felt pulse and plea for the living to carry on and celebrate, not despair.

The music speaks to us all personally. This is my truth.

November 28, 2015 at 12:04 AM · Gorecki - Symphony nr 3

Arvo Pärt - Litany, Lamentation

November 28, 2015 at 12:19 AM · Anyone heard the obligato in Es ist Vollbracht played with adequate expression, or does everybody else try to "not overdramatize it"? For instance, I think it needs a fast bow and fast vibrato on the second top "A", to make it sound agonized.

November 28, 2015 at 11:03 AM · Back in the '60s I turned up to a quartet performance at the Edinburgh Festival to be told that the cellist had died overnight but that they would play the concert as a tribute with Rostropovich sitting in.

They concluded the programme with Death and the Maiden.

I was sitting beside Bernard Levin, probably the most famous journalist of his generation and well known as a music buff. He was in floods of tears throughout.

Quite a moving experience!

(Can anyone recall which quartet this would have been? My memory has let me down...)

November 29, 2015 at 12:38 AM · One that definitely pushed my tear layer up a notch was the final scene of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball). It's right near the end. The strings steal in very quietly. The dying Riccardo forgives Renato, his confidante turned assassin, starting with: "Ella è pura. In braccio a morte, te lo giuro, Iddio m'ascolta." (She [your wife] is pure [or "innocent"]. In the arm of death, as God is my witness, I swear it before you.") Translation is mine.

I didn't have this reaction when I first studied the musical drama on my own and subsequently saw it in performance; but some years later, when I listened to it again, this part really got to me.

November 29, 2015 at 01:19 AM · schubert's stabat mater

arvo part - fur alina

November 29, 2015 at 07:28 AM · John - the only obbligato on either of my recordings of Es Ist Vollbracht is for oboe. Are we thinking of the same piece - from cantata 159?

The Fischer-Dieskau recording features the legendary BPO oboist Lothar Koch - replete with full, rich tone and vibrato, and molto espressivo - but still sounding absolutely appropriate for Bach, free of any kind of exaggeration, distortion etc. Almost as eloquent as F-D himself.

November 30, 2015 at 01:46 AM · There is Elegy for Solo viola by Stravinski.

Here is a version played by Dino Asciolla

It is not nearly as thorny as some other works by the composer and is his only work for solo viola.

November 30, 2015 at 02:48 PM · Ravel Pavane for a Dead Princess

Britten War Requiem,

especially "Strange meeting" the duet between the two dead soldiers--

"I am the enemy you killed, my friend" always chills and moves deeply. Wilfred Owen was an amazing poet of WW1, and Britten's music meets his words with power

(among all the others already multiply-mentioned)

December 2, 2015 at 06:54 AM · Wagner: Prelude & Liebestod.

Respighi: Pines of Rome

December 2, 2015 at 03:43 PM · Schubert's Adagio from his String Quintet in C! That really gets me most of the time.

Sibelius' 2nd movement of the violin concerto is also good.

December 2, 2015 at 04:45 PM · I happen to be a fan of the end of Wagner's Gotterdammerung

December 3, 2015 at 10:17 PM · I am always impressed by the erudition, and willingness to share ideas on this board. Hats off to everyone who replied. I have known, loved, and cataloged many of these, but did miss a few, so sincere thanks.

December 4, 2015 at 12:33 AM · Peter, I'm just now listening to Es Ist Vollbracht from Cantata 159 for the very first time ever - The one I was referring to is from the Johannes Passion, which at the moment moves me more than the other I have just heard.

Their both being good might have something to do with their both being by a certain composer ...

December 4, 2015 at 10:08 PM · The second movement of Death and the Maiden. The ending of that movement. It's so visceral and vivid to me, it gives me chills.

Echoing others; Mozart's Requiem. Can't listen to it w/o crying. (Okay, I admit, part of that is because of the movie AMADEUS. Okay, more admission: a very, very big part of that is b/c of the movie.)

And then there's Franz Schmidt's Symphony No. 4 in C-major. Just tears at my heart. Again, due to backstory. Just before he composed it, his daughter and only child died in childbirth. This was his requiem to her.

Great list!

December 5, 2015 at 02:19 AM · Hebrew Melody by Joseph Achron Op. 33.

Tshaikowsky 6. symphony.

Both pieces are so magical and have a background about death.

December 5, 2015 at 11:04 AM · John Rokos - all is explained! I'll check out the St John version next time I'm on Youtube. Agree totally about the composer - Bach 'did' melancholy very affectingly in so many pieces, yet I think that no-one since has celebrated life as he did in so many pieces, just by adding 3 trumpets and drums (and a chorus, at times).

December 7, 2015 at 05:02 PM · Regarding Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), the final installment of Wagner's Ring tetralogy, mentioned above:

This is another part that really gets to me -- soon after the passage known as Siegfried's Funeral March and just before Brünnhilde's Immolation Scene. Gutrune has the lines:

Ach Jammer! Wie jäh nun weiss ich's, Brünnhild' war die Traute, die durch den Trank er vergass!

(Ah, sorrow! How clearly I now see: Brünnhilde was his [Siegfried's] true love, whom the [drugged] drink made him forget!)

Translation is mine.

December 8, 2015 at 05:47 PM · Shostakovich: String Quartet no. 15 - First Movement. I have the Rubio Quartet version and it is amazing. The opening violin melody, to me, is hauntingly beautiful. It almost sounds like a distant plea for help as one is dying. It is truly beautiful.

Eric Whitacre: Alleluia. It's just voices, and voices only. The only lyric is "Alleluia" and it is a very moving piece.

Barber: Adagio for Strings. It's just a beautiful piece. It's a tear jerker.

Shosty: Violin Concerto no.1, mvt. 3. This is my favorite piece of music ever written. One theme repeats throughout the orchestra and the soloist, and the violin part is very intense, very moving, and you can feel the hopelessness and the fear in the entire moving, the cadenza is like a beast emerging from the depths, it may seem like just notes, but it is powerful and violent, and I really like that type of music.

Others: Mahler Symphony no. 2, 5, 8, and 9

Shostakovich Symphony no. 5, 10, and 11

Elgar: Sospiri - Adagio for Strings, Organ, and Harp

Bach: Chaconne in D minor for Solo Violin

Liszt: Concert Etude no. 3, Un Sospiro

Vitali: Chaconne in G minor (Heifetz + Organ version is the best)

and so many others.

December 9, 2015 at 05:43 AM · The slow movement of Beethoven's quartet op.135.

December 23, 2016 at 01:26 AM · Peter, not on subject, but since you mentioned Bach on the other extreme, I think the greatest expression of joyful triumph in all music is his prelude to In Dulce Jubilo (Fantasia) - especially the point where the organ goes full blast on the phrase beginning on the dominant.

December 26, 2016 at 06:00 PM · little bit off topic, but just wanted to show my appreciation of finding a way into some Wagner music coming from this thread.

My name being Sigurd, which is the nordic equivalent of Siegfried, who apparently is a character from 'Sigurd Fafnersbane' in norse mythology, of couse i was interested in hearing his funeral march.

That led me on to Tannhäuser overture which i find absolutely amazing:

Edit: A little piece from La forza del destino opera - 'pace pace mio dio'

From wikipedia: 'Leonora prays that she may find'

peace in death

Oh and this little gem:

Die Erlkönig sung by Anna sofie von otter. Amazing performance!

December 26, 2016 at 06:25 PM · I'm so relieved - I was worried there for a minute that you'd written an entire book on the "Death" of Classical music! Whew!

I've become very partial to Ysaye's "Obsession" Sonata No. 2, with its repeated references to the Dies Irae. I especially like the second-movement "Malinconia," I really find it one of the most moving pieces in the violin lit, especially solo violin.

December 26, 2016 at 08:20 PM · Yes, the Ysaye, particularly as played by Shumsky.

December 27, 2016 at 02:49 PM · - Elgar Sospiri (op. 70)

- Nielsen symphony 2 "four temperaments" III- Melancholic

- Bruckner Symphony no. 8

- Barber Adagio for Strings

December 27, 2016 at 11:59 PM · Franz Schmidt, "Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln". Not only death, but even a whole apocalypse.

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