So Classic FM posted this list of 10 pieces of classic music most likely to make you cry:
There are some beautiful works in there for sure, and all are wonderful pieces of music in their own right, but if you ask me (and I know that you didn’t) most of them are actually too much to genuinely draw tears: too romanticised; too melancholy; too far into pathos. When I get stuck into a good wallowy piece like Barber’s ‘Adagio’ for example, I quickly get over-acclimatised to the harmonic language after just a couple of bars because it’s such an extremely sad sound-world. So I listen, and I love it, and I enjoy feeling soooo… bummed out. But I don’t actually cry.
[Also, I note that some of their top 10 are reliant on you knowing the back-story to an opera and being emotionally invested in the characters to get the appropriately teary reaction. But I LOVE that they do that: give you just enough description to get you to click on a “short clip” just to get you sucked in and then before you know it you’re 20 minutes into a 3 hr opera and you might as well watch the rest ;)]
Of course, it’s a silly thing to challenge, as of course people all react differently to music and a Top 10 list is an inherently redundant idea anyway in such a subjective and ENORMOUS genre as “Classical Music”. But I have a real soft spot for them because they get people listening and sharing. Within seconds of showing my husband Remus the article we had brainstormed our own personal list. We both chose gentler, classical-era stuff of the more bittersweet variety rather than the more sturm-und-drang, Victorian morbidly-indulgent stuff. I think that’s because, in real life, when a moment appears that juxtaposes happiness with sudden loss or when something is SO beautiful it becomes too impossible to hold on to and and joy and grief swirl into one undefinable sensation, that’s what catches in the throat. But this is just our Top 10 today and tomorrow we would probably come up with ten others. Because we’re human that’s just how life rolls… and there is just THAT much great music out there! The order is not set in stone. Anyway, here it is…. There’s a LOT of Beethoven, Brace Yourselves:
10) J.S. Bach Brandenberg Concerto no. 1 in F BWV 1046, 2nd movement
I’m a highly emotional person, so I’m often told by my husband, so it stands to reason that the (literally) highly-strung piccolo violin sound would speak to me. But I’d be surprised if the amazing harmonic supsensions in this didn’t get to the more emotionally reserved among us too.
9) Mozart Piano Concerto no. 23 – II. Adagio
OK, so this makes me sigh rather than cry, but it’s beautiful and delicate and poignant.
OK, here comes the Beethoven. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t choose…
8) Beethoven Symphony no. 3 ‘Eroica’ – III. Marche Funebre
The first piece Remus mentioned when I said what kind of list I was doing:
7) Beethoven Symphony no. 7 – II. Allegretto
I like this one even more:
6) Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 5 ‘Emperor’ – 2nd movement
5) J.S. Bach St. Matthew Passion: “Erbame Dich, Mein Gott”
OK, so I might seem like I have a penchant for gorgeous violin solos, but I promise it’s not swaying me in my choices, these really are just heartbreaking pieces. In this famous aria (which can be sung alto but I prefer countertenor and Michael Chance is just amazing), Peter repents his betrayal of Jesus and begs, “Forgive Me, My God”.
4) Mozart ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ Act IV Finale – “Contessa, Perdono”
If there is a more perfect example of humanity infused with the Divine in the whole history of music, please tell me what it is. This is the moment at the end of the Finale when the Count’s cheating and phillandering is revealed and he is faced with the pain of his wife who sings that she forgives him. Disappointment, forgiveness, heartbreak and unconditional love merge in what must surely be one of the most perfect musical phrases ever birthed.
3) R. Strauss – Four Last Songs: III – Beim Schlafengehen; IV – Im Abendrot
The whole of ‘Four Last Songs’ is to die for but the violin solo of ‘Beim Schlafengehen’ around the 11:00 mark, gives you that bizarrely delicious feeling of not knowing if you’re happy, sad, or so excited you could throw-up.
Definitely of the so-beautiful-it-hurts genre, the last song “At Sunset” is set to the following poem (translated from original German) by Joseph von Eichendorff:
We have through sorrow and joy
gone hand in hand;
From our wanderings, let’s now rest
in this quiet land.
Around us, the valleys bow
as the sun goes down.
Two larks soar upwards
dreamily into the light air.
Come close, and let them fly.
Soon it will be time for sleep.
Let’s not lose our way
in this solitude.
O vast, tranquil peace,
so deep in the evening’s glow!
How weary we are of wandering—
Is this perhaps death?
The music is infused with such peace and acceptance as if looking back on a long and happy life about to end, with gratitude, love and longing. This was the last-but-one piece Richard Strauss composed before his own death.
2) Haydn String Quartet Op. 54 no. 2 – II: Adagio
If I tell you that when my terminally-ill Uncle, who wasn’t at all into classical music, heard me listening to this he asked what it was, got me to play it again and again for him and requested it at his funeral, it will prepare you for what you’re about to hear.
1) Beethoven String Quartet in A minor, op. 132
Molto Adagio — Andante — Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit.
This movement was written after Beethoven recovered from a very serious illness which he had feared would take his life. It means, roughly translated, ‘Song of Thanks to God from a Convalescent’. Despite what I said about choosing differently on different days, this is one of the ten pieces of music I need the most in my life, all year every year, and will be until I die. When I’ve had a really traumatic experience, yet still feel life is beautiful and just need the comfort of crawling into bed and crying sweet tears of relief, this is what I put on.
I hope you found some inspiration here. I should do another list, there is plenty of late Schubert, Schumann, Britten and lots more Bach and Mozart I could have chosen but these are just what leapt straight to mind from reading the Classic FM post. I would love if ten others would leap to your mind from reading this and that you might share them with me!