Music, like writing and painting, has long been used to remember those that have passed away. Composers have often been inspired in one way or another to write works that express the sorrows and joys of the person memorialized.
The medieval planctus is an early lamenting song often written as a memorial. Of the surviving compositions, it is Peter Abelard’s planctus that is one of the most notable.
The English Renaissance had an unusual kind of musical memorial in the instrumental composition known as the “dumpe.” Usually found in lute or keyboard collections, the “dumpe” was often described as doleful and somber in character, and usually had its dedicatee’s name attached.
The unexpected and tragic death of Henry Purcell was the inspiration for Jeremiah Clarke’s ode “Come, come along for a dance and a song.” First performed at Purcell’s memorial concert, which included music by John Blow and Godfrey Finger, Clarke’s ode is a mini-drama in and of itself, the first part of which includes a festive scene shortly before a messenger arrives to give the bad news.
The Requiem Mass is probably the most ubiquitous religious ceremony given to remember the dead. And by far, the most famous belongs to a composer whose own life was cut short, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Not only was part of his unfinished Requiem performed at his own funeral, but it was also performed at the funerals of Joseph Haydn, Carl Maria von Weber, Johann Hummel, and Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch. It’s a work that has been highly regarded since it was composed.