When we’re sad, it doesn’t always mean we need to cheer up. In some cases, listening to sad classical music can be the perfect way to express our grief and reflect on our sadness.
However, only a few pieces rise to the level of being considered the saddest classical pieces ever written. In this article, we will discuss a few pieces that could be considered the saddest classical songs ever written.
If you’re feeling a little melancholy and would like to listen to some classical music, here are just a few of the most heartbreaking classical pieces ever composed:
“Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber
Written in 1936, the “Adagio for Strings” is one of the most famous pieces of classical music ever written. This emotive piece was written in memory of composer William Schuman’s late father. At first listen, it sounds like a love song full of hope and beauty. But when you look at the piece within its historical context, you see that Barber’s purpose was to help his country come to terms with the death of President Franklin Roosevelt.
The profoundly moving strings and organ accompaniment perfectly capture the sadness and longing of bereavement. The song’s lyrics, “I know that we must say goodbye,” perfectly capture the sense of sadness and loss that permeates the piece.
“Requiem” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
In 1791, Mozart began work on his final symphony. He worked hard to finish the piece but died unexpectedly at 35 before it was completed. Friends and family finished orchestrating the piece after his death.
It is said that Mozart’s wife Constanze wept for days when she heard her husband had passed away. She had just gotten news that she was pregnant with their sixth child, but the baby would never know its father.
Mozart’s last symphony became known as his Requiem and is one of the most moving elegies ever written. The piece is scored for orchestra, chorus, soprano soloist, and baritone soloist and was meant to be performed for a Requiem Mass service. It’s a solemn work that recalls the last rites of the Catholic church, and its dramatic intensity can be overwhelming.
“Sono andati?” by Puccini’s La Boheme
Puccini’s “Sono andati?” is adapted from an earlier opera. The young composer wrote his first opera, “Le Villi,” in 1884, but it was never performed professionally. He reworked the piece into “I Medici” with an entirely new storyline that premiered in 1895.
However, the final version of the opera that we know and love today is “Puccini’s La Boheme.” The opera tells the story of four young friends in Paris who share a passion for art and music.
The opera is famous for its heartbreaking aria, “Sono andati?” sung by Mimi, the consumptive heroine of the opera. The aria is about the fleeting nature of life and the pain of losing those we love. Mimi sings, “They’ve gone away, those dear ones/And I am left here all alone.”
It’s a beautiful piece, full of love and longing, which is why it has been so widely adopted for use in weddings – but there’s no denying that it can be a tearjerker.
“Dido’s Lament” by Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell was one of the most prolific and successful English composers of the Baroque period. He wrote various works, including operas, chamber music, and sacred music.
One of his most famous works is the opera “Dido and Aeneas.” The opera is based on Virgil’s epic poem “The Aeneid.” The story tells the tragic love story of Queen Dido and Aeneas, a Trojan prince who is forced to leave her.
The opera is famous for its beautiful aria, “Dido’s Lament.” Dido sings the aria as she mourns the death of Aeneas. She laments her fate and sings, “Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.”
The aria is one of the most famous and well-loved pieces of Baroque opera, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a beautiful piece of music that captures the pain and sadness of lost love.
“Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven
Written in 1801, Beethoven was inspired to write this sonata after falling out with a friend. The first movement is full of anguish and despair, while the second has a sense of hope leading to an ambivalent third movement. It’s no wonder that there are so many stories about Beethoven breaking hearing aids with this piece.
“Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Pärt
Spiegel im Spiegel means “mirror in a mirror,” and this famous piece is as much about reflection as it is sadness. Like many of Pärt’s compositions, it has a simplicity that belies its emotional power – but the powerful minimalist approach adds to the overall sense of deep sadness which infuses all of his work.
“Sospiri” by Elgar
Edward Elgar was one of the most famous English composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He wrote various works, including oratorios, symphonies, and chamber music.
Sospiri means “sighs” in Italian, and Edward Elgar wrote this beautiful piece in 1903. It’s a ten-minute work for string orchestra and solo violin, and its reflective and emotive music perfectly captures the sadness of lost love.
“18th Variation” from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Rachmaninov
Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov wrote this famous variation in 1934. It’s a hauntingly beautiful piece that uses the tune of Paganini’s 24th Caprice as its basis.
The 18th variation is one of the most famous and well-loved pieces of classical music ever written, and its sad and melancholy tone has made it the perfect choice for the closing credits of film and television.
“Vissi d’arte” by Puccini’s Tosca
This famous piece was written in 1900 by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini and was inspired by a section of his opera, Madame Butterfly. The song tells the story of Tosca’s desperate love for her imprisoned lover, Cavaradossi. The piece became famous again in 2007 when it was used to beautiful effect at both the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.
“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” by Henryk Gorecki
This moving symphony was written in 1976 by Polish composer Henryk Gorecki. It has three movements – the first a setting of a 15th-century poem describing a mother’s grief at her son’s death, the second a soprano solo accompanied by orchestra, and the third a choral setting of three poems that were found on one of the composer’s mother’s death certificates. It’s an incredibly powerful work that is full of sadness and loss.
“Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar
English composer Edward Elgar wrote this beautiful and evocative piece in 1898. The Nimrod variation is the 10th of the 14 variations that make up the Enigma Variations, and it’s a mournful tune that reflects the composer’s sadness at the death of his friend, Arthur J. Payne. It’s one of the most famous and well-loved pieces of classical music ever written.
“Come, Sweet Death” by Johann Sebastian Bach
This beautiful piece is a lament for the death of Johann Christoph Bach’s wife. A cantata was written in 1727. It has been performed and recorded by some of classical music’s greatest performers. It was even used as the closing song at the funeral of former US President Ronald Reagan.
These are just a few of the saddest classical songs ever written. Each one is full of sadness, loss, and grief, and they are all incredibly powerful pieces of music. Classical music is one of the most dynamic and powerful musical genres ever created, and these songs help prove it.
Whether you’re a fan of classical music or not, I urge you to listen to these pieces – you won’t be disappointed.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.