Like many classic folk ballads, the authorship of "The House of the Rising Sun" is uncertain. Musicologists say that it is based on the tradition of broadside ballads such as The Unfortunate Rake of the 18th century and that English emigrants took the song to America where it was adapted to its later New Orleans setting. Alan Price of The Animals has even claimed that the song was originally a sixteenth-century English folk song about a Soho brothel.
With more than a touch of graveyard lugubriousness, this piece is probably the most famous of all funeral marches. It has been used at the funerals of politicians such as John F Kennedy and Winston Churchill as well as appearing many times in popular culture.
The first movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 'Quasi una fantasia' in C sharp minor Op. 27 No. 2, 'Moonlight' is one of the most popular piano pieces ever written. The sonata got its name when poet Ludwig Rellstab described the music as being 'like moonlight shining on a lake' in 1832.
This piece comes from Xerxes - an opera seria in three acts. The opening aria, "Ombra mai fu", sung by Xerxes to a tree, is set to one of Handel's best-known melodies, and is often played in an orchestral arrangement, known as Handel's "Largo". It is often performed at solemn occasions such as funerals and weddings.
Perhaps the most well-known piece by a lesser-known composer, Albinoni's melancholic adagio has featured countless times in film and TV, including in Manchester by the Sea, Orson Welles's The Trial, Flashdance and even The Inbetweeners 2. Ironically, it may not have been written by the composer, some claiming it to be a hoax by Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto, who catalogued the composer's works.
Tchaikovsky's ballet "Swan Lake" (original version 1875–77) is the love story of Prince Siegfried, who on a hunting trip encounters a flock of swans, falls in love with the Swan Queen, Odette, and swears his allegiance and undying love to her. The iconic 'Flight of the Swans' melody that begins the final scene to Tchaikovsky's ballet 'Swan Lake' is a fatalistic presence throughout the work. This movement begins with the same plaintive quality heard elsewhere, this time however building towards a more triumphant close.
Mussorgsky's "Night on the Bare Mountain" is a dramatic and exciting depiction of a witches' sabbath. One of the most famous works in the classical repertoire it was also used to great effect in Walt Disney's Fantasia.
A piece that might have you 'witching' you were somewhere else... It is the opening of the last movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, a depiction of a witches' sabbath though the medium of a fevered dream. If this horror is not enough, the main theme is an old melody used to set the words 'Dies Irae' ('Day of Wrath') used as part of a Requiem Mass (Mass for the Dead).
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is from the Nutcracker, one of the most famous ballets ever written. It evokes the twilight world of fairies and other magical creatures, as so vividly captured by Walt Disney in his Fantasia.
Lacrimosa, meaning 'weeping' is the last section of the Dies Irae sequence from Mozart's Requiem. A Requiem or Requiem Mass, is a rite usually performed at a funeral. It contains some of the last bars of music penned by the composer and, appropriatelly, was used in the film 'Amadeus' to accompany the composer's burial.
The second movement of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony takes the form of a solemn funeral march. Funeral marches were widely known at the time but Beethoven was one of the first to incorporate one into a symphony. The symphony was originally dedicated to Napoleon, which has led some to speculate that this movement might be an exploration of the 'heroic' qualities of the French general, even though Napoleon was still very much alive at the time. Beethoven later scratched out the dedication when Napoleon declared himself Emperor.
This is unlike the slow movement of many symphonies. Its theme is quickly established and has a hauntingly beautiful melody. Beethoven composed this Symphony while improving his health in the Bohemian spa town of Teplice.
The lilting, melancholic theme that opens this symphony is one of the composer's most well-known. The composition occupied an exceptionally productive period of Mozart's life of just a few weeks in 1788, during which time he also completed the 39th and 41st symphonies.
Bydlo ('Cattle') is the forth picture from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. It consists of an insistent ostinato (short repeating melody) that accompanies the plaintive melody in the solo part. Together they appear to depict a cattle-drawn carriage emerging from the gloom and then receding into the distance.