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Funeral Voluntaries

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Lately I have found myself playing for a lot of funerals. Strangely, considering I'm not so very far away from my own, this is completely new territory for me as I never had to do it in any of my previous incarnations. I'm just wondering what sort of things you all play for voluntaries when you have a free choice, most particularly at the end. How funereal a tone is appropriate these days? I assume (and would hope) that the traditional Chopin and Handel warhorses are right out.

 

I ask because the other day I played the coffin out to Howells's Sarabande in modo elegiaco and it nearly had me in floods of tears, so God knows what it did to the bereaved!

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Lately I have found myself playing for a lot of funerals. Strangely, considering I'm not so very far away from my own, this is completely new territory for me as I never had to do it in any of my previous incarnations. I'm just wondering what sort of things you all play for voluntaries when you have a free choice, most particularly at the end. How funereal a tone is appropriate these days? I assume (and would hope) that the traditional Chopin and Handel warhorses are right out.

 

I ask because the other day I played the coffin out to Howells's Sarabande in modo elegiaco and it nearly had me in floods of tears, so God knows what it did to the bereaved!

 

Well, I have to say that I wouldn't play that piece at the end of a funeral. I can't help feeling that if the family and friends are listening at all to the music, unless they were Howells lovers, I would play something more melodic. I think quite a bit of this depends upon the size of the church and how close the organ is to the congregation. I haven't played for a funeral for a long time but if I were playing for one today, I would take along...

 

Bridge - Adagio in E

Whitlock - Folk Tune

Bach - Dorian Fugue, Novello vol 18 - Herzlich, Erbarm, Orgelbuchlein - several obvious pieces, Novello vol 2 - Canzona

Pachelbel - Ciancona in D minor

Rheinberger - Sonata 11 - Cantilena

Tchaikovsky - Andante Cantabile

Elgar - Nimrod (Harris)

Ireland - Sursam Corda

Little Organ Book in memory of Parry

Franck - Prelude, Fugue and Variation

Rawsthorne - Abide with me,

 

Nothing startlingly original here!

Martin

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Lately I have found myself playing for a lot of funerals. Strangely, considering I'm not so very far away from my own, this is completely new territory for me as I never had to do it in any of my previous incarnations. I'm just wondering what sort of things you all play for voluntaries when you have a free choice, most particularly at the end. How funereal a tone is appropriate these days? I assume (and would hope) that the traditional Chopin and Handel warhorses are right out.

 

I ask because the other day I played the coffin out to Howells's Sarabande in modo elegiaco and it nearly had me in floods of tears, so God knows what it did to the bereaved!

 

Hi

 

It depends on the tone of the service - if the deceased was a believer,then I often use a version of "I Know that my Redeemer Liveth" - or even the Karg-Elart "Nun Danket Alle Gott" (but that was exceptional). I try not to do "funereal" funerals - especially for Christians, for whom after all death is just the "end of part one".

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi

 

It depends on the tone of the service - if the deceased was a believer,then I often use a version of "I Know that my Redeemer Liveth" - or even the Karg-Elart "Nun Danket Alle Gott" (but that was exceptional). I try not to do "funereal" funerals - especially for Christians, for whom after all death is just the "end of part one".

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

I recently played Marcello's The Heavens Declare the Glory of God as an outgoing voluntary at a Sunday Mass; it happens that the widow of a man who was to be buried that week was in the congregation; her late husbad was Italan, and she asked for this music to see the coffin out of the church. . Widow and daughter were very pleased.

 

To the the list of less "upbeat" pieces appropriate I would add the GTB Elegy.

 

Peter

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Guest Patrick Coleman

The GTB Elegy often figures here, as does the Barber Adagio.

 

It's become a custom here to see faithful parishioners off with the Hallelujah Chorus, especially when the funeral takes the form of a Requiem Mass. :P

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A few from me, including a couple already mentioned (though I don't do many funerals):

 

Nimrod

A few Rawsthorne pieces - Abide with me, Londonderry Air prelude, and the Aria (which is useful for almost any occasion and pretty straightforward). I have the Mayhew 'Essential Book of Funeral Music' and I occasionally go to a couple of his others from in there - all formulaic and harmless but as good as Mayhew gets.

Albinoni Adagio (or Giazotto's Adagio to be a little more accurate!)

Thalben Ball Elegy

I know that my redeemer liveth

I'm currently working on the Barber Adagio as arranged by Strickland.

 

I wouldn't have automatically thought of playing Howells - if I did I might go for Master Tallis's Testament which is about as melodic as Howells gets. The stuff above is all rather 'populist' but when you have non-church people in I think it works best. The Karg-Elert is a good suggestion for something loud if requested.

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.....I'm not so very far away from my own...

I sincerely hope not!

 

To add to the other suggestions, what about the Howells D flat Rhapsody? I have used that for special services around Remembrance-tide, sometimes following on from the Wilfred Owen poem which ends "... let us sleep now."

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Totally depends on the tone though for someone with a deep faith and strong connection to the church something rousing might well work - I was once asked for a "rousing and noisy piece of Bach", which translated to the St Ann fugue.

 

Contrabombarde

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When, at tthe Crem, I'm told "organist's own choice in and out" I always play "O rest in the Lord" and "Cast thy burden upon the Lord".

 

Malcolm

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Totally depends on the tone though for someone with a deep faith and strong connection to the church something rousing might well work - I was once asked for a "rousing and noisy piece of Bach", which translated to the St Ann fugue.

I was asked to play the Grand March from Aida as the Recessional at the funeral of an opera-lover. Great fun - tuba and all.

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A great man of the church of my aquaintance died a few years ago of a brain tumour. He knew his end was near and planned his own funeral. When on a visit to Bristol Cathedral he heard a piece of which he was particularly fond, turned to his wife and said 'That's what I want played as my coffin leaves church'. The piece in question? The Tocatta from the Gothic Suite, which I was privileged to play for him. A fitting Finale for a lovely man who I miss still.

 

Regards to all

 

John.

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Thank you, everyone for your suggestions. Plenty to think about there. I take the point several of you have made about the tone of the service and nature of the congregation. Does anyone have any views on the big Bach preludes such as the "great" C minor, B minor, E minor, etc? Too severe for the average, non-musical congregation?

 

DHM: Thank you. Please rest assured that I hope to continue to irritate the hell out of the Romantic Bachians for many years yet.

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Interesting topic. Here's a few which I've churned out recently (sorry if duplicate any!):

 

Camilleri: Wine of Peace

Handel: Largo from Xerxes

Bach/Brahms: Schumucke Dich, O Liebe Seele

Peeters: Aria

Barie: Lamento (from Trois Pieces)

Guilmant: Chant Elegiaque

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Interesting topic. Here's a few which I've churned out recently (sorry if duplicate any!):

 

Camilleri: Wine of Peace

Handel: Largo from Xerxes

Bach/Brahms: Schumucke Dich, O Liebe Seele

Peeters: Aria

Barie: Lamento (from Trois Pieces)

Guilmant: Chant Elegiaque

 

Ah yes, Wine of Peace - I often play that as a prelude. When music (other than a hymn) is requested for the entrance of the coffin, he Dupre Cortege is just the right length, at least for the nave in my church (and arguably if an exuberant piece is required for the exit the Litanie could be played).

 

Dido's Lament has also been requested once.

 

Peter

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I don't play for funerals that often but I played the Parry Chorale Preludes on "Eventide" and "St.Cross" from Set 2 at a funeral recently. Both are very appropriate - Eventide is very obvious while St.Cross has the sub-title "O come and mourn with me awhile" and has great emotional depth and power.

 

Brahms chorale preludes - I've used "O Gott, du Frommer Gott", which I thought was especially powerful.

Bach Chorale preludes - there are so many to choose from, from Orgelbuchlein, the 18 and Clavierubung III. Don't forget the Chorale Partitas either. One I'm particularly keen on right now is "Herr Gott, nun schleuss den Himmel auf" from Orgelbuchlein.

Sweelinck "Mein Junges Leben" - especially poignient for someone who dies before their time.

Howells Master Tallis's Testament

Reger Benedictus, Op 59/9.

Elgar - Chanson de matin

 

I thought long and hard about playing "Nun Dankett alle Gott" by Karg-Elert at a recent funeral and I didn't play it in the end - I was a bit worried some people might mis-interpret it.

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Does anyone have any views on the big Bach preludes such as the "great" C minor, B minor, E minor, etc? Too severe for the average, non-musical congregation?

 

I seem to recall that Princess Diana went out to the great Bach C minor.

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Sweelinck "Mein Junges Leben" - especially poignient for someone who dies before their time.
:angry:

 

Hmm ...it sounds more like a sad but light heartedsong/dance to me. Does anyone know how these words came to be associated with the variations? I vaguely remember some suggestion that Mein Junges Lieben (my young love..) might be the intended title.

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I seem to recall that Princess Diana went out to the great Bach C minor.

The cortège moved westwards to Tavener's Song for Athene, and Martin Baker did indeed play the Bach C minor (after a minute's silence) as the cortège moved through the west door.

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Hmm ...it sounds more like a sad but light heartedsong/dance to me. Does anyone know how these words came to be associated with the variations? I vaguely remember some suggestion that Mein Junges Lieben (my young love..) might be the intended title.

It's actually a popular tune of the time. A lecturer in German once told me that it is actually a farewell to batchelorhood (the "young life" in the title referring to this state), but I can't comment on this. Maybe our Continental friends can elucidate.

 

Sets of variations on popular tunes were particularly favoured by the English virginal composers and it could have been emigrants like John Bull and Peter Philips who introduced the form to the Netherlands (though other nations were at it as well). As with those of the English virginalists, Sweelinck's variations on popular songs were most probably written with a plucked keyboard instument in mind, though players of the time would no doubt have played them on whatever instruments they wished, including organs.

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When my father died there wasn't much to laugh about, but when we went to the funeral directors we couldn't help ourselves. Their expensively produced brochure cataloguing their services contained a very long and impressive list of the music in the crem organist's repertoire.

 

I can't remember all of the details, but it included such things as Handle's Lager, Mozart's Moonlight Sonata, a theme from a Sympathy (perhaps appropriate in the circumstances) and the printing errors went on and on and on. Perhaps it wasn't a bad thing; it certainly broke the tension.

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I thought long and hard about playing "Nun Dankett alle Gott" by Karg-Elert at a recent funeral and I didn't play it in the end - I was a bit worried some people might mis-interpret it.

I often wonder what people thought about me playing the "Jig" fugue at the end of my father-in-law's funeral. He had requested it though.

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... When music (other than a hymn) is requested for the entrance of the coffin, he Dupre Cortege is just the right length, at least for the nave in my church (and arguably if an exuberant piece is required for the exit the Litanie could be played).

And there's Dupré's Lamento, or does this fall into the same category as the Howells, i.e. too intensely sad?

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I can't remember all of the details, but it included such things as Handle's Lager, Mozart's Moonlight Sonata, a theme from a Sympathy (perhaps appropriate in the circumstances) and the printing errors went on and on and on. Perhaps it wasn't a bad thing; it certainly broke the tension.

 

My mother left the same church twice to the Toccata from Widor's Fifth Sympathy - once for her wedding, the second time for her funeral.

 

Contrabombarde

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At my church, I am pleasantly surprised by the number of families who ask for “something cheerful”; I have played the March from the Occasional Oratorio sometimes.

 

No list from me that would be of any interest to forum members except for one piece, that is, I am sure, no longer in print - “Air in C” by Arthur Somervell. It was published in an arrangement which put it up a tone into C major and is effectively a take off of the so-called Air on the G string of Bach. It was originally written for violin and piano in B flat and I have made my own arrangement for organ in the original key, which I think sounds better and follows more closely Somervell’s original text. I would be glad to make a pdf of it for anyone interested. I have used it for weddings, funerals and just as a simple pre service voluntary. It begins quietly and is marked to end “ff” but it is just as effective to end quietly. Adrian Lucas included it, in the C Major version, on his Priory disc at Hull City Hall some years back.

 

Somervell’s music is, I feel, sadly neglected; his setting of the 23rd psalm using H.W. Baker’s paraphrase is a little masterpiece; his G major service deserves to be better known and his “Thalassa” Symphony in D minor also very well worth hearing - the marvellous second movement being, in the period between the Wars, as popular as Nimrod for “elegiac” occasions. I have an arrangement of this for piano by the composer and would be glad to send it together with the Air, if requested.

 

Perhaps I shouldn't be flippant in the current context; we have all heard crem stories of "Smoke gets in your eyes" and "Keep the home fires burning" but a friend of mine told me once that, many years ago, she was convinced that she heard "Roll out the barrel" being played in Norwich Cathedral at the end of a funeral service. No, it wasn't him.

 

If the two Somervell pieces are of interest, send me a PM and I will see what I can do.

 

David Harrison

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When my father died there wasn't much to laugh about, but when we went to the funeral directors we couldn't help ourselves. Their expensively produced brochure cataloguing their services contained a very long and impressive list of the music in the crem organist's repertoire.

 

I can't remember all of the details, but it included such things as Handle's Lager, Mozart's Moonlight Sonata, a theme from a Sympathy (perhaps appropriate in the circumstances) and the printing errors went on and on and on. Perhaps it wasn't a bad thing; it certainly broke the tension.

Wandering off topic, but the director of Musica Contexta, Simon Ravens, used to run a record shop. Customers would bring him scraps of paper on which they had scribbled the titles of music they had heard on Radio 3 and of which they wanted a recording. The inevitable mistakes included:

 

Acker Bilk's Canon

Al Bowlly's Adagio

Mendelssohn's Wedding Mask

Sibelius's Tapioca (and Potholer's Daughter)

Chopin's Military Bolognese

The Bog Roll from the Tales of Hoffmann

Bach's Kestrel Sweets

Cream of Gerontius

Cavalier Rusty Meccano

 

Oh, and an opera by Monteverdi called "The Constipation of Popeye".

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