Chapter 17 Musical Representations of Grief and Death

In: Grief, Identity, and the Arts
Wolfgang Marx
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Music has been linked to grief and death since human beings started expressing themselves musically; there is hardly any culture on our planet that does not have a musical aspect to its funeral rites. It has also been a perennial topic of art music, not just in song, madrigal, and sacred genres such as cantata or passion but even in instrumental music particularly since the Romantic age. This chapter describes functions and structural means of musical engagement with death, focusing on Western art music. It will discuss a range of theoretical approaches including Philip Tagg’s identification of “traditional” Western markers of funereal music, Martin Lodge’s classification of death-related musical functions, Sebastian Leikert’s psychoanalytical interpretation of music’s cathartic capacities, and others. Martin Spitzer’s analysis of emotion in music informs the look at how music engages with these functions. While grief is a central reaction to death, it rarely is the only one—funereal music often engages with a range of emotions, serving several functions at once such as celebrating a deceased’s achievements or being part of a succession rite. However, in the vast majority of cases grief and consolation remain the focal points around which many other emotions and functions coalesce.

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Grief, Identity, and the Arts

A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Expressions of Grief

Series:  Death in History, Culture, and Society, Volume: 1


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