Choosing music for your loved one’s funeral can be an important and meaningful part of planning the service. Some people opt for funeral hymns, others want country songs, but many Americans choose classical funeral music to pay tribute to their loved ones.
Here are 10 of the most beautiful popular pieces of classical music for funerals.
1. Nimrod (from Enigma Variations) – Edward Elgar
English composer Edward Elgar wrote the 14 musical compositions known as the Enigma Variations in honor of his dearest friends and family. Variation IX, also known as Nimrod, is dedicated to Augustus J. Jaeger, who helped the composer through his darkest periods of self-doubt and depression. Nimrod is a favorite piece of classical funeral music, thanks to its powerful melody and message of hope and friendship.
2. Adagio in G Minor – Tomaso Albinoni
This mournful piece of classical music is frequently used in film and TV to highlight a moment of sadness or despair. The heart-wrenching melody is said to have been based on a fragment of music written by 18th Century Venetian composer Tomaso Albinoni, which was discovered and developed by 20th century composer Remo Giazotto. Quite who this beautiful funeral music should be rightly attributed to is still the subject of debate in music circles today. Regardless of the tune’s backstory, it’s a beautiful and popular choice for classical funeral music.
3. Canon in D – Johann Pachelbel
One of the most famous pieces of classical music of all time, Canon in D was composed sometime between 1680 and 1706 by German composer Pachelbel. After some initial success, this classical masterpiece went out of fashion and was only rediscovered in the 1960s. It is now a favorite choice for wedding and funeral music alike, with its powerful crescendos and emotive melody.
4. Adagietto (from Symphony no. 5) – Gustav Mahler
The fourth movement of Mahler’s fifth symphony is thought to be a love song dedicated to his beloved wife, Alma. He also wrote poetry for Alma, declaring his “longing and love” for her. Commonly known as Adagietto, this piece of classical funeral music is played only by the string section and a solo harp. The effect is wistful, yet incredibly stirring.
5. Amazing Grace – John Newton
Originally a hymn written by Anglican clergyman John Newton, Amazing Grace is now well-known and loved by Christians and non-Christians alike, popular at funerals, military ceremonies and remembrance services. Sometimes sung, or simply played as an instrumental piece, Amazing Grace is a stirring religious song to pay tribute to a loved one.
6. Adagio for Strings – Samuel Barber
Arguably one of the most heartbreaking pieces of modern classical music, Adagio for Strings was played at the funerals of Albert Einstein and Princess Grace of Monaco. It was also broadcast to mark the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Princess Diana. It featured in the 1986 film Platoon, and in numerous movies and TV shows since. It has become a piece of music deeply associated with grief and mourning.
7. Adagio Lamentoso (from Symphony No. 6) – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Part of Tchaikovsky’s final symphony, Adagio Lamentoso was first performed in St. Petersburg just nine days before his death. Although the official cause of his death was cholera, there has been much speculation that the brilliant composer died by suicide and that Symphony No. 6 was his last farewell to the world. The final movement of the symphony, Adagio Lamentoso, is as mournful as it is beautiful, whichever theory about Tchaikovsky’s death convinces you.
8. Un bel dì vedremo – Giacomo Puccini
This heart-breaking song from the opera Madame Butterfly tells the story of a woman waiting for her loved one to return home. Un bel dì vedremo (‘One fine day we shall see’) is the most famous aria from this beloved opera with a tragic ending. The beautiful vocals and powerful melody have made it a popular choice for classical funeral music when saying farewell to a loved one.
9. Ave Maria – Franz Schubert
One of the most popular pieces of classical music for funerals, Schubert’s version of Ave Maria has been performed by countless artists over the years. The tenor Luigi Vena performed Ave Maria at John F. Kennedy’s funeral and the song remains a popular choice for funerals. Although a religious funeral song, both Christians and non-Christians alike choose this moving melody for their funeral.
10. Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor – Sergei Rachmaninoff
With soaring strings and twinkling piano melodies, this concerto is at once uplifting and moving, making it a perfect piece of classical music for a funeral. Praised as one of the best piano concertos ever written, this piece marked Rachmaninoff’s recovery from a long period of writer’s block and depression.