When it comes to choosing music for funerals, classical music is always a safe option. Most people enjoy it and it’s suitable for almost any kind of funeral where music is allowed.
But which songs should you choose? There are so many beautiful pieces of classical music, it can be hard to know where to start.
This article should help you decide. We’ve picked out our favourite classical music for the funeral entry, exit and moment of reflection.
Classical funeral entrance music
Entrance music is just that – the music that plays when people enter the funeral venue. Think carefully about your choice because entrance music sets the tone for the whole funeral service.
Here are some ideas to get you started. Each has a different feel. Why not have a listen and see if any seem like a good fit?
Moonlight Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven
This is a very famous piece of classical music. Its proper name is Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, but most people call it Moonlight Sonata.
The first movement is most appropriate for a funeral. With its stark piano melody and dramatic bass notes, it would establish a very sad and serious mood. The second movement is much livelier and more upbeat.
Nimrod by Edward Elgar
Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ is often played at funerals, as well as memorial services like the National Service of Remembrance in London. It would be a good choice of classical funeral entrance music if you want a big, majestic sound.
Adagio lamentoso by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
‘Adagio lamentoso’ is the final part of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6. It was one of the last pieces he wrote before he died in 1893.
The music is very emotional. Tchaikovsky uses swelling strings and mournful horn melodies to communicate a deep sense of grief. In the last section, it becomes quiet and restrained – like the feeling you might have after crying for a long time.
More entrance music ideas
‘Air on the G String’ by Johann Sebastian Bach (arr. August Wilhelmj)
Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten by Arvo Pärt
‘Adagio in G minor’ by Tomaso Albinoni (arr. Remo Giazotto)
Classical music for a funeral reflection
Some funerals include a moment of reflection. This is a quiet part of the service where people can pray or remember the person who has died.
You can play music during the moment of reflection or you can let people reflect in silence. If you do want music, it’s best to choose something delicate and low-key. Here are a few ideas.
Clair de lune by Claude Debussy
‘Claire de lune’ has a clear beginning, middle and end. It starts with a pretty piano melody, then gets faster and more complex before settling down again – but it never sounds too sombre or dramatic. Play it softly during the funeral reflection and it will take people on a gentle emotional journey.
Gymnopédie No. 1 by Erik Satie
You might recognise this piece – it’s appeared in many films and television shows. Like all of Satie’s Gymnopédies, it has a mellow and mournful sound. The sheet music even asks the pianist to play ‘lent et douloureux’, which means ‘slowly and painfully’. This makes it feel like a simple, bittersweet lullaby.
Prelude, Op. 28, No. 15 by Frédéric Chopin
This is commonly known as the ‘Raindrop’ prelude because it reminds people of the soft patter of rain. There’s something hypnotic about it, which may help people focus on their thoughts as they sit and reflect.
The second part of the piece gets quite dramatic and gloomy. Just play the first part if you’d rather not change the mood.
More ideas for the moment of reflection
‘Sheep may safely graze’ by Johann Sebastian Bach
‘Metamorphosis Two’ by Philip Glass
Op. 40, No. 2 (‘Chanson Triste’) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Classical funeral songs to use as exit music
Are you looking for uplifting funeral exit music in a classical style? These compositions will provide a welcome change of mood as people file out of the funeral venue. With their hopeful sound, they seem to say ‘the funeral is over – now it’s time to focus on living and celebrating life’.
Where’er you walk by George Frideric Handel
This classic funeral song comes from an opera called Semele. In the opera, the song is used to describe paradise:
Where’er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade;
Trees where you sit shall crowd into a shade.
If you’re religious, you could take this to mean Heaven. Or you could interpret the words as saying ‘the person will live on through the beauty of nature’.
Penguin Café Orchestra – Steady State
Penguin Café Orchestra’s ‘Steady State’ is a modern take on classical music that mixes in elements of folk songs and jazz. Its mood is upbeat but tinged with sadness. Listening to it feels like watching the sun rise while reflecting on happy memories from long ago.
Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel
Canon in D is a very popular piece of classical music for funerals – and for good reason. It’s the kind of song that will appeal to everyone. If people feel sad, they’ll appreciate its soothing, gentle melody. Others might like it because it sounds joyful and optimistic – like a new beginning.
This piece is also known as Pachelbel’s Canon.
More exit music ideas
‘Ombra mai fu’ (‘Largo’) by George Frideric Handel
‘Ellens dritter Gesang’ (‘Ave Maria’) by Franz Schubert
‘Un bel dì, vedremo’ by Giacomo Puccini
Explore other types of funeral music
- Traditional funeral songs and hymns
- Uplifting funeral songs
- A guide to choosing the right funeral music
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