Top 10 Classical music for funerals

JFK's family at funeral on Capitol Hill

JFK’s family – funeral on Capitol Hill

Here’s our guide to classical music for funerals.

We’re grateful to Final Fling Family member, musicologist and writer Dr David Code for rifling through his extensive collection and selecting some melodious magic for us. We love Dr Dave’s choices. You may recognise many of these tracks instantly.

Classical music provides a solidity and solemnity that can be just right for a funeral. From soaring strings to searing peaks and soothing passages, classical tracks can provide the right backdrop for various stages of a traditional funeral… the committal when the coffin is lowered or moved out of site and for the reflection… a quiet space for everyone to hold their own thoughts. Classical music for funerals can create just the right tone to hold a sense of sadness that no other music quite manages. Classical music alone has a unique way of ‘expressing the inexpressible’, as WH Auden, the writer, put it.

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Top 10 classical music for funerals

  1. Schubert’s Ave Maria – sung at JFK’s funeral and performed oft by Pavarotti and all the greats.
  2. Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, a favourite swelling emotional sound at weddings and funerals.
  3. Chopin’s famous Funeral March: a passionate lament enfolds a luminous sliver of lyrical consolation.
  4. Elgar’s, Nimrod from Enigma Variations is instantly recognisable from Last Night of the Proms and other powerful and passionate outings.
  5. Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony: ideal for deeper melancholy lushness.
  6. Bach’s sacred music offers cathartic spiritual release whatever your faith: ‘Ruht wohl’ (Rest well) from the St John Passion, is a tender lullaby. ‘Erbarme dich’ (Have pity) from the St Matthew Passion is more intimate with a silky violin solo.
  7. Schubert’s late slow movements offer transcendent mournfulness and warm consolation.  Look for movement II from Piano Sonata in B flat major, D960.
  8. The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams: meditative, iridescent violin solo, here with Nicola Benedetti.
  9. Barber’s Adagio for Strings, opus 11: naked emotional power as broadcast at the death of President Roosevelt and played at the funeral of Einstein.
  10. Pie Jesu from Fauré’s Requiem:Fauré saw death as a ‘happy deliverance’ not something painful.

Other Top 10s

Download our full list of music for funerals to have a handy print-out of other Top 10s – hymns, gospel, popular.


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