PLAYLIST - A list of sad and tearful works of classical music to discover when you feel the need to cry

A playlist by France Musique, using our own unique video archive of concert and studio recordings.

PLAYLIST - A list of sad and tearful works of classical music to discover when you feel the need to cry
PLAYLIST: Which sad and sorrowful works of classical music should you listen to when you feel the need to cry?, © Getty / PeopleImages

When we're feeling blue, we don't always need cheering up. Sometimes, the only thing for it is to go all the way down and open the flood gates. This is the perfect playlist for those looking to embrace the sadness, full of soft, sad, and sorrowful, but no less fantastic, performances...

Vivaldi : il Giustino, "Vedro con mio diletto" by Jakub Józef Orliński (countertenor)

Nicknamed il Furioso for his fast, passionate, and highly virtuosic music, Vivaldi surprised his audiences with his opera Il Giustino, composed in 1724 for the Venice Carnival, and notably with the aria Vedro con mio dilettos, sung by the Byzantine emperor Anastasio to his beloved Arianna. Upon leaving his beloved for battle, rather than singing the traditionally virile air full of bravura, the Byzantine emperor reveals a moment of delicate intimacy and sadness: "And if from my dear object I be far away I will sigh, suffering every moment..." 

Love and sadness are never far apart, and here they are in their purest forms.

Purcell: Dido's Lament, performed by the Ensemble Contraste

Commonly known as "Dido's Lament", the aria sung by Dido "When I am laid in earth"

Betrayed and forever abandoned by Aeneas, the distraught and grief-stricken queen Dido slips into the cold darkness of Death, unable to continue living without her beloved. Her hauntingly beautiful lament, simple yet melodically powerful, expresses an honest love: "When I am laid, am laid in earth, may my wrongs create no trouble, no trouble in, in thy breast. Remember me, remember me, but ah, forget my fate"

Proof of the emotional strength of Purcell's music, the aria's sadness is just as moving without the words:

Lambert : Vos Mépris chaque jour (Ensemble Artaserse / Auvity)

The chorus master and composer, Michel Lambert was one of the most prolific composers of vocal music of the second half 17th century, famous in particular for his musical settings of the works by French poets Isaac de Benserade and Philippe Quinault. Widowed only a year after his marriage to the singer Gabrielle Dupuis, Lambert was no stranger to heartbreak and loss, sentiments beautifully expressed in "Vos Mépris chaque jour":

"Each day your contempt causes me a thousand anxieties. But I love my fate, however harsh it may be. Alas! If I find so many delights in my misfortune, I would die of pleasure if I were any happier."

Dowland: Flow my tears (Jaroussky / Garcia)

A composer famed for his powerfully melancholic music, and his songs in particular, it is hard not to turn to John Dowland when feeling sad. And yet, Dowland's is a beautiful sadness, one that seeks not to deepen the sorrow but rather offer a moment of melancholic serenity. Perhaps one of the most popular songs during the composer's lifetime, Flow my tears describes a lover's reflection upon his own life and loss, lamenting his pain to the point of envying those in the fires of hell: "Happy, happy they that in hell Feel not the world’s despite."

"Flow, my tears, fall from your springs! Exiled for ever, let me mourn; Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings, There let me live forlorn."

Dvořák: Echos de chants B 152 - VII. Kol domu se ted' potácím - Quatuor Akilone

Enamoured with his 16-year-old piano student, Dvořák decided in 1865 to compose a cycle of love songs for voice and piano, setting to music a collection of Moravian poems by Gustav Pfleger-Moravský. Too personal for the composer to publish, Dvořák decided to keep the songs hidden from the public. In 1888, Dvořák finally decided to transcribe 12 of the songs for string quartet though these still remained unpublished until 17 years after the composer's death. A pure and innoncent declaration of love, concealed and unheard for the composer's entire lifetime...

I linger by the house of my beloved, The house where love once lived. I still bleed from love's wounds, Those sweet wounds, from loving you in vain.

Debussy: Elégie (Alain Planès, piano)

Written during the rising and deadly turmoil of the Great War, the dark days for the composer were worsened due to the severe and constant physical pain he suffered on a daily basis (aggravated by a failed operation in December 1915). A calm, sorrowful, and hauntingly simple work, undoubtedly composed while suffering both physically and emotionally, Debussy's Elégie was conceived as a contribution to the war effort, distributed via subscription in the hopes of raising money.

Rachmaninoff: Trio élégiaque for piano, violin and cello no.2 op.9 (Andrei Korobeinikov , Alexandre Kniazev et Dmitri Makhtin)

The death on 6 November 1893 of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, an important ally and friend of Rachmaninoff, left a deep and profound mark on the young 20-year-old composer. On the very same day he began writing a trio in memory of the departed composer, completing the work six weeks later. Deeply despairing and mournful, Rachmaninoff's Trio élégiaque no.2 is an emotionally pure musical memorial for a close friend mentor...

Beethoven : Piano Concerto no.4 with Elisabeth Leonskaja and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France

The Piano Concerto no.4 was composed in 1806 during Beethoven's so-called middle" (approximately 1802-1812), a time of great difficulty for the composer, both emotionally and physically. After writing his Heiligenstadt Testament in 1802, a letter to his brother in which he detailed his suicidal thoughts, caused by the worsening condition of his hearing (he would become almost completely deaf by 1811), Beethoven developed a deeply amorous relationship with the Countess Josephine Brunsvik. Though his feelings were requited, his social status (or lack thereof) resulted in the Countess gradually distancing herself from the composer until withdrawing completely in 1807.

Finished in 1806, the composer was unable to find a musician willing to perform the work in concert. Beethoven was forced to put the work aside for 2 years until finally deciding to perform himself his composition on 22 December 1808. The concerto made an unfortunately poor impression, moving Beethoven to decide to never perform as a soloist in public again.

Mozart : Requiem (Orchestre national de France / James Gaffigan)

Barely a year before his death, physically weak and in debt, Mozart received an anonymous commission to compose a Requiem Mass (later revealed to have come from Count Franz von Walsegg). Convinced he was at Death's door, Mozart saw the financially lucrative commission as a divine order to compose his own requiem, a task he accepted dutifuly. Unfortunately, Mozart passed away before completing the work, and barely managed to finish the Introitus and the Kyrie. The task of completing Mozart's masterpiece, thereby obtaining the rest of the money owed for the commission,  therefore fell upon his student, Franz Xaver Süssmayr. Though the remaining movements were not fully composed by Mozart, the student Süssmayr had been left indications by his dying master on how to complete his masterpiece. 

The work is an explosive blend of passion, sorrow, and anxiety in the face of Death... though Mozart seemed to have developed a unique approach to such an ineffable sentiment:

“As death [...] is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relationships with this best and truest friend of mankind that death's image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed very soothing and consoling

Elgar : "Nimrod", no.9 from the "Enigma" Variations, conducted by Mikko Franck

Sadness is not necessarily a negative sentiment. When Edward Elgar confessed to his publisher and close friend August Jaeger his severe depression and inability to continue composing music, Jaeger pulled his friend out of the depths of despair, bringing him hope and the will to continue:

[Jaeger] said that Beethoven had a lot of worries, and did he give it all up? No. He wrote more, and still more beautiful music - "And-that-is-what-you-must-do" Elgar in a letter to his friend Dora Penny

In return for his kindness and encouragements at a time of hardship, Elgar dedicated to his friend what is perhaps one of the most powerful and emotionally stirring works of music known to man, the ultimate token of friendship. Remember, it's ok to cry when in the face of great beauty...