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Beautiful classical funeral music

Aminah Trask lists her favourite farewell music.

Music is just about the most important part of my life. Therefore I have considered many times the pieces of music that would be appropriate to mark the end of a life.

I have divided the article into various sections: farewell music; profound chamber music; chamber music laments; consolation music; contemplative music and then my personal favourites.

My Last Song says: Apologies for the YouTube clips which have been taken down. These will be replaced soon. 

Farewell music and songs

Composer: Richard Strauss
Piece: Four Last Songs
Performed by: Gundula Janowitz, soprano/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Karajan
Recording: Deutsche Grammophon 423 888-2
Notes: Janowitz’s sublime and soaring voices suits this autumnal, farwell music perfectly.

Composer: Schubert
Piece: Wiegenlied D498
Performed by: No particular recording
Recording: No particular recording
Notes: A three minute lullaby.

Composer: Schubert
Piece: Wanderers Nachtlied no 2, D768
Performed by: No particular recording
Recording: No particular recording
Notes: A three minute lullaby, roughly translated:
‘Above the treetops, there is peace. Hardly a leaf stirs.
The birds are silent in the woods. Wait! Soon you, too, can rest.’

Composer: Schubert
Piece: Piano Trio no 1, D898, 2nd movement: andante
Performed by: Trio Wanderer
Recording: HMC902002.03
Notes: Schubert here, as so often, encompasses the pleasure and pain of life.

Composer: Schubert
Piece: Notturno for piano trio D897
Performed by: Trio Wanderer
Recording: HMC902002.03
Notes: Schubert again with this lovely piece encompasses the pleasure and pain of life.

Composer: Benjamin Britten
Piece: String Quartet no 3, final movement: Recitative and Passacaglia, La Serenissima
Performed by: Elias String Quartet
Recording: Sonimage 10903
Notes: The movement opens with the sound of the bells in Venice, known as La Serenissima, and memories of the past, leading to a slow, graceful dance of farewell.  Britten wrote this at the end of his life, knowing he was very ill, as a farewell to his partner, the tenor Peter Pears. There is no YouTube clip of this piece available.

Composer: Mahler
Piece: The Farewell, the final movement: Song of the Earth
Performed by: No particular recording
Recording: No particular recording
Notes: a German translation of a Chinese poem, for mezzo-soprano and orchestra.

Composer: Stravinsky
Piece: Gently, little boat. The lullaby from the Rake’s Progress, Act 3 Scene 3
Performed by: No particular recording
Recording: No particular recording
Notes: A  Blake-like vision of innocence and heaven.

Chamber Music: the most profound works

Composer: Schubert
Piece: String Quintet:
Performed by: Borodin String Quartet/Mikhail Milman, cello
Recording: Teldec 94564
Notes: A sublime interpretation. It can be bought here. The following YouTube clip is not this recording but gives you an idea of the beauty and complexity of the piece.

Composer: Beethoven
Piece: The late string quartets: Opus 130, 131, 132, 135
Performed by: Borodin String Quartet
Recording: Virgin Classics
Notes: Technically stunning, exciting and spiritual performances as required by such profound music.

Chamber Music: Laments

Composer: Beethoven
Piece: String Quartet: Opus 59. no 1, 3rd movement
Performed by: Borodin String Quartet
Recording: Virgin Classics VBD 5614062
Notes: Possibly the only truly sad string quartet movement that Beethoven wrote.

Composer: Tchaikovsky
Piece: String Quartet: no 3, 3rd movement: Andante funebre e doloroso
Performed by: Kopelman Quartet
Recording: WHLive 0010
Notes: The was written in memory of the violinist Ferdinand Laub.

For consolation

Composer: Schubert
Piece: Piano sonatas D960 and D959, especially 2nd movement
Performed by: Murray Perahia
Recording: Sony 87706
Notes: Perahia captures the eloquence and gentle profundity of these peices. The YouTube clip is not the recording.

Composer: Bach
Piece: Chaconne from Partita No. 2 In D Minor, BWV 1004 for solo violin
Performed by: No particular recording
Recording: No particular recording
Notes: Often played on other instruments including piano and guitar.

Contemplative music

Composer: Beethoven
Piece: String quartet Opus 132, especially 3rd movement
Performed by: Borodin Quartet
Recording: EMI 614062
Notes: This recording, made in the late 1990’s, is far superior to the Quartet’s more recent recording with different personnel. The 3rd movement is a powerful prayer, subtitled: A holy song of thanks to the divine, from one recovered from illness.

Composer: Messiaen
Piece: Quartet for the end of time, especially the 5th movement, Praise to the Eternity of Jesus
Performed by: Trio Wanderer/Pascal Moragues
Recording: Harmonia Mundi HMC 901987
Notes: An intense French recording of French music. This CD is available at The Woods music website.

Composer: Schubert
Piece: String Quartet in D minor D810, Death and the Maiden, 2nd movement: andante con moto
Performed by: Kopelman Quartet
Recording: WHLive 0010
Notes: A wonderful exploration of the different asects of the them from Schubert’s extraordinary song Death and the Maiden.

Composer: Schubert
Piece: Piano trio no 1, 2nd movement: andante
Performed by: Trio Wanderer
Recording: HMC902002.03
Notes: A beautiful, serene performance

Personal favourites

Composer: Mozart
Piece: Sonata K448
Performed by: Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu

Composer: Schubert
Piece: Fantasia D940, for two pianos
Performed by: Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu
Recording: Both pieces on Sony Classics B0000263VS
Notes: Memorable for the extraordinary unanimity in execution and musical phrasing - a joy. This recording can be purchased here. The YouTube clip is not the recording.

Composer: Schubert
Piece: Lieder especially Des Fischers Liebesglück (The Fisherman’s Luck in Love)
Performed by: Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor, and Graham Johnson, piano. Recording: Hyperion CDJ33006
Notes: The best rendition of this exceptionally beautiful song. This YouTube clip is not the recording.



Composer: Musorgsky
Piece: Songs and Dances of Death
Performed by: Sergei Leiferkus, baritone/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Temirkanov
Recording: RCA RD60195
Notes: Four extraordinary, dramatic songs of Death personfied as different characters. The YouTube clip is not the recording.

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Paul Hensby wrote on 7 Dec 10 at 4:56pm
Paul Hensby

This is a brilliant list of classical funeral music. The selections are wide ranging and show the width of emotions which classical music can portray. This is why they are so suitable as funeral music. When people are planning funerals, and want profound classical funeral music, this listing will be very useful indeed.

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