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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 classical music pieces, it can be hard to know where to start.

This article should help you decide. We’ve chosen a selection of the best classical music for funerals and memorial services, including ideas for the entrance, exit and moment of reflection. You’ll also see a few suggestions for classical organ music and piano compositions.

Classical music for funeral entrance

People often choose classical music for the funeral entry or for the entrance of the coffin to the 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 music is often used for funerals. You might have heard ‘Nimrod’ at memorial services like the National Service of Remembrance in London. It would be a good choice of funeral 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 classical music ideas for funerals

‘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 has to be one of the most beautiful pieces of classical funeral music. It’s 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 classical music for reflection at funerals

‘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.

‘Steady State’ would be especially good for a Humanist or non-religious funeral. Unlike many older pieces, it doesn’t have any obvious religious inspiration.

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 classical funeral exit music

‘Ombra mai fu’ (‘Largo’) by George Frideric Handel

‘Ellens dritter Gesang’ (‘Ave Maria’) by Franz Schubert

‘Un bel dì, vedremo’ by Giacomo Puccini


Classical organ music for funerals

Some of the best classical funeral music is written for the organ. You could hire an organist to play these pieces or play them through a sound system at the venue.

Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 639 by Johann Sebastian Bach

Are you looking for a piece of Christian classical music for a funeral? This Bach composition is based on a 16th-century hymn by the German Christian writer Johann Agricola.

Prelude on ‘Rhosymedre’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Like the Bach piece above, this one is based on an old hymn. While it has a melancholy sound, it’s also quite soothing.

Classical piano music for funerals

There’s lots of piano music on this list. However, these pieces are written especially for solo piano, which helps to highlight the beauty of the instrument.

Prelude, Op. 28, No. 6 by Frédéric Chopin

Here’s a short, sad piece that would suit a funeral reflection. It’s built around a simple melody that wanders up and down the keyboard as if it’s looking for something to hold onto.

Études-Tableaux, Op. 39 No. 2 in A minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff

This piece is sometimes called ‘The Sea and the Seagulls’. When you hear it, you’ll understand why. Like turbulent waves, it goes from gentle calm to stormy chaos and back again.

Photo by Manuel Nägeli on Unsplash.