Hymns and Music

Hymns remain a popular choice of music for funerals in the UK, and not just for devoted church-goers either. Many people find comfort in including religious songs in their loved one’s service and certain hymns have remained popular funeral song choices over the years. We can also arrange Singers, Bagpipers, Gospel Choirs, Jazz bands to perform at funerals.

Here we run down the top 10 most popular funeral hymns in the UK, according to a recent survey.

10. Ave Maria

This world-famous hymn, meaning ‘Hail Mary’ in Latin, has been performed by many famous singers and adapted by several different composers. The most famous tune is the one written by Schubert and has been praised as one of the most beautiful pieces of religious music ever written.

9. (Joint) I Watch the Sunrise

This hymn follows the progress of the sun in the sky throughout a day, reflecting on the passage of time and the importance of closeness to God. Many people find its message comforting during their grief: “The air is silent, earth is at rest – only your peace is near me. For you are always close to me, following all my ways.”

9. (Joint) The Day Thou Gavest Lord Has Ended

Another hymn using the metaphor of day and night, this classic funeral song is uplifting and hopeful, rather than sorrowful: “The dawn leads on another day, the voice of prayer is never silent, nor dies the strain of praise away.”
Member of a choir singing from a hymn sheet in church

8. Morning Has Broken

Written in 1931, many will have grown up singing this song at school or in church. With a cheerful melody and hopeful lyrics, Morning Has Broken is not essentially a song about loss or grief, but about life and renewal. It’s another example of a 'happy' hymn popular for funerals.

7. Old Rugged Cross

Often performed in a country and western style, Old Rugged Cross is first and foremost a song celebrating Jesus Christ and a dedication to serving God: “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down.”

6. Jerusalem

Seen by many as England’s unofficial anthem, Jerusalem is a musical version of a poem by William Blake, written in 1804. With powerful lyrics and an uplifting melody, Jerusalem remains one of the most popular hymns for many religious occasions.

5. Amazing Grace

This stirring song is often played or accompanied by bagpipes at funerals and is famous for its message of salvation and finding peace after death: “Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil, a life of joy and peace.”

4. How Great Thou Art

How Great Thou Art is based on a 19th century Swedish poem and the tune of a Swedish folk song. It rejoices in the beauty of nature and power of God: “I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.”

3. All Things Bright and Beautiful

Probably known by almost every person in the UK, this Anglican hymn is often sung and celebrated by many different churches within Christianity. Another song about celebration rather than mourning, it has remained a popular choice for funerals throughout the years.

2. Abide With Me

Abide with me is a powerful Victorian hymn about asking God for comfort and help during the darkest of times. It is an ideal choice of funeral song for those grieving and needing guidance.

1. The Lord Is My Shepherd

Based on Psalm 23, this well-known hymn offers a message of guidance and comfort, with a tune that even non-religious people will recognise. Like many of the other songs on this list, The Lord Is My Shepherd is an uplifting funeral song, more about finding guidance in grief than about the pain of grief itself. Choosing music for your loved one’s funeral can be an important and meaningful part of planning the service. While some people opt for hymns, others for pop ballads, classical funeral music remains a popular choice for Brits.

Here are 10 beautiful, moving pieces of classical music for funerals.

1. Nimrod (from Enigma Variations) – Edward Elgar

Enigma Variations are 14 musical compositions in honour of Elgar’s dearest friends and family. Variation IX, also known as Nimrod, is dedicated to Augustus J. Jaeger, who helped the composer through his darkest periods of self-doubt and depression. Nimrod is a favourite piece for funeral music and is always played at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.

2. The Lark Ascending – Vaughan Williams

Featuring one of classical music’s most beautiful violin parts, The Lark Ascending was inspired by the George Meredith poem of the same name. Expressing the rise and fall of a bird’s flight, it consistently ranks at the top of Classic FM’s Hall of Fame polls, as well as the BBC’s ranking of the nation’s favourite Desert Island Discs.

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3. Canon in D – Johann Pachelbel

Canon in D was composed sometime between 1680 and 1706 by German composer Pachelbel. After its initial success, Canon in D went out of fashion and was only really rediscovered in the 1960s, after which it won its place as a favourite for weddings and funerals, thanks to its powerful crescendos and beautiful harmonies.

4. Adagietto (from Symphony no. 5) – Gustav Mahler

The fourth movement of Mahler’s fifth symphony, known as Adagietto, is thought to be a love song dedicated to his wife, Alma. He also left to his wife a short poem: “How much I love you, you my sun, I cannot tell you that with words. I can only lament to you my longing and my love, my bliss!” Played only by the string section and a solo harp, this is a slow, wistful, yet incredibly stirring piece of music.

5. Lacrimosa (from Requiem) – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Lacrimosa (meaning “weeping”) is a dramatic and mournful choral piece with religious lyrics sung in Latin. Part of Mozart’s astounding unfinished masterpiece Requiem, the legendary composer has only written the first eight bars of Lacrimosa at the time of his death. It was completed by the Austrian composer Franz Xaver Süssmayr.

6. Adagio for Strings – Samuel Barber

Arguably one of the most heartbreaking pieces of modern classical music, Adagio for Strings was played at the funerals of Albert Einstein and Princess Grace of Monaco. It was also broadcast to mark the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Princess Diana. It also featured in the 1986 film Platoon, and has been featured in innumerable films and TV shows since. As such, it has become synonymous with grief and mourning.

7. Adagio Lamentoso (from Symphony No. 6) – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky’s final symphony was first performed in St. Petersburg just nine days before his death. It has since been speculated that Tchaikovsky took his own life and that Symphony No. 6 was his last farewell to the world. The final movement of the symphony, Adagio Lamentoso, is as mournful as it is beautiful, whether or not you believe the theories about its composer’s death.

8. Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten – Arvo Pärt

This orchestral elegy was written by Pärt, an Estonian composer, in memory of the great Benjamin Britten. It is performed only by the strings section and a solitary chiming bell. Significantly, the piece is written to begin and end with long periods of silence. Pärt’s biographer, Paul Hillier, noted that: “How we live depends on our relationship with death: How we make music depends on our relationship to silence.”

9. Ave Maria – Franz Schubert

One of the most popular pieces of classical music for funerals, Schubert’s version of Ave Maria has been performed by countless artists over the years. The tenor Luigi Vena performed Ave Maria at John F. Kennedy’s funeral and the song remains a popular choice for funerals. Although religious in content, both Christians and non-Christians have a connection to this moving melody.

10. Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor – Sergei Rachmaninoff

With soaring strings and twinkling piano melodies, this concerto is at once uplifting and heart-rending. Often praised as one of the best piano concertos ever written, this piece marked Rachmaninoff’s recovery from a long period of writer’s block and depression. It has repeatedly claimed Classic FM’s No.1 favourite song in the last 20 years.

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