10 Somber Classical Tunes for a Pandemic

In my last blog I offered you, dear reader, 10 Happy Classical Tunes for a Pandemic. But what if you don’t feeling like listening to “happy” music right about now? You’re in too much pain. Understandable. Been there. It’s that weird state that commonly follows the death of a loved one, or something huge like a divorce, loss of a job, a home, (or, say, a pandemic). One minute, jokes and happy music work splendidly. The next, everything turns dark and grieving. At that time, what you want is music that hits you there, deep in the bogs of your heavy heart, that won’t try to lift you up and away. Instead it makes you feel gorgeously comforted right there, in that brooding place, that’s dark but not, because it is, in truth, an extraordinary, mystical, otherworldly state that maybe you don’t need to run from.

Yeah, that feeling.

So once again, my sister Annette and I have put our heads together to compile this list. Some of these 10 pieces are sad. All are soulful; all are beautiful. They might make you cry. And, reader, not only is that okay, it’s WONDERFUL. Welcome to all flavors of the human experience. It’s where we all belong, uncomfortable or not. That is real living.

And so, without further ado…

10 Somber Classical Tunes for a Pandemic

  1. Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres for Strings” (or see the embed above). Unusual and mesmerizing and unforgettable. I first heard this live at the San Francisco Symphony and was so blown away, I hurried home to blog about it HERE.
  2. Rachmaninov’s “Isle of the Dead”. This made it onto my 10 Spooky Classical Faves for Halloween blog, but it’s far more nuanced than that. It’s disturbing and darkly gorgeous. Wait till you see the image on YouTube. It, and the music, will deliciously haunt you.
  3. Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 (“Winter Dreams”) 2nd movement. Tchaikovsky gave this second movement a name as well: “Land of Desolation, Land of Mists.” I have always loved, loved, loved this symphony (blogged about it HERE) and am surprised it’s not as well known as No. 4, 5 and 6. This is a beautiful, soulful, very “Russian” sounding movement.
  4. Mahler’s “Adagietto” from his Symphony No. 5. If you haven’t grabbed Kleenex yet, now might be the time. The “Adagietto” is frequently played at funerals, not because it sounds somber, but because there is such an unearthly beauty to it that will lay you flat, even as it enfolds and calms you.
  5. Elgar’s Enigma Variations“Nimrod.” This is another one that qualifies as “so beautiful it hurts,” both somber and uplifting. It never fails to reduce me to tears, even as my heart soars like a bird.
  6. Grieg’s “Notturno” for orchestra. A piece that I used to listen to, during the winter in Kansas, back home with the folks following my Peace Corps experience. At the time, I was grappling with some of the deepest, most embedded depression of my life. I’d get to my job ten minutes early, sit in my car in the covered parking structure, play the music, and cry, before wiping my face, giving myself a firm shake, and going into work. There’s an original piano version, too.
  7. Grieg’s Peer’s Gynt, “Solveig’s Cradle Song.” This is possibly the most beautiful of the somber songs. Or the most somber of the beautiful songs. Music commissioned for a five-act play by Ibsen. In short, Ibsen’s character, Peer Gynt, is returning home after an eternity away, like the Prodigal Son, and the loyal, loving Solveig holds out her arms and basically says, “I forgive you all. You are home.”
  8. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, 2nd movement. One you’ve likely heard and probably adore like Annette and I do. It’s passionate and somber, gorgeous and stirring. From subtle to symphonic.
  9. Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” Of course you know this one. Everyone does; it personifies somber classical music. Here, it’s in its lesser-known original string-quartet incarnation. To me, four instruments make it so much more powerful than a full orchestra. But if you prefer that version, here it is.
  10. Mozart’s Mass in C-minor “Kyrie”. You might know this from the film, Amadeus. That’s where I first heard it and fell in love with it. It’s the epitome of solemn, although in the movie, it played as Mozart and Constanze were getting married, so it wasn’t sad by any means. I’ll call it soul-stirring. One of the comments just below the 7m14 piece reads, “When the doctor has said you have 7 minutes and 14 seconds to live.” Witty, yet rather profoundly true. What a way to go.

Yikes, this is all heavy stuff to listen through. I say we end it with an embed of Lucia Popp’s performance of “Solveig’s Cradle Song.” It truly carries an “everything will be all right” feeling. Enjoy, dear reader. And know that, in spite of how everything looks and feels right now, eventually, everything will be all right.

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