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It's only natural that in all the arts we can find a wide range of emotions — from kick-up-your-heels exuberance to soul-crushing grief.
But music seems to excel above all when it comes to sadness. At least that's what it seems like, reading the 250-some comments responding to the question we posed earlier this week: "What's the saddest music in the world?"
Gloomy music can incite sadness, encourage it, or simply be a welcome soundtrack for it. But sorrowful songs, as many of the comments attest, also have the power to unlock emotional doors and break through barriers to set the sadness free.
Why do we love our "saddest music" so much? Read a few of the stories, lists and comments below. Hear some of the music readers suggested and perhaps find an answer for yourself.
Lisa Rich: "In 2009 I gave birth to a stillborn son. One night, deep in grief, with full breasts and empty arms, my eyes swollen with a million tears, I heard Leona Naess singing her song 'Ballerina.' The song is mournful and heartrending and spoke to me in a way that stumbling, but well meaning, loved ones could not. She begins, 'I'll never feel the weight of your hands inside mine like diamonds...' and with those words she set all the yearning, desolation, and cruel guilt that I felt to music. We live in a society where we are expected to closet our grief so as not to cause discomfort in others. I think that pouring your grief into music, letting your raw emotions connect to song may be the only way to scream and tear at your hair in a way that won't have people calling professionals in for an intervention. I know my choice isn't classical [music], but it remains the 'theme song' for the darkest chapter in my life.
Stephen Giles: "My nomination is Astor Piazzola's 'Oblivion.' The bandoneon is gloriously anguished in its expressiveness; and in the hands of Piazzola, one is swept along the boulevards of Buenos Aires to a place of existential angst."
Justin Wilson:"I own a little over 2600 albums and 'Casimir Pulaski Day' by Sufjan Stevens is the most tender, raw, sad, yet beautiful song I'm aware of."
Ann Ramsey: "My college roomate and I were experts on sad songs in the early-mid seventies. Try Dory Previn. If she isn't doing funny, then she's doing sad, real sad ....sometimes so sad it's sick. But leaving Dory behind, my all time pop sad pick would be 'Feel Like Going Home' by Mark Knofpler & the Walkabouts. A dear friend sailed across the Atlantic in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' crossing. Some of the legs of his trip were solo. I taped music for him to take along, including 'I Feel Like Going Home.' I think the saddest thing I ever saw was his video tape of a few minutes of his trip, sitting in the cockpit of a 42-foot Morgan in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a windless day, with my tape of that song playing in the background."
Chloe Piercy: "The top two songs that first come to mind are 'Since I Fell For You' performed by Nina Simone and of course 'Gloomy Sunday' performed by Billie Holiday. I'm also pretty impressed with The Be Good Tanya's 'Waiting Around To Die' and 'I Wish My Baby Was Born.' All of these songs make me tear up every time I hear them.
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Laura Sievert: I would submit that any song is the saddest song, depending on its meaning to you. That's what's so great about music: the power to move and to put you in a certain moment in time. My pick for saddest song ever is, in fact, a sad song: 'Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain' sung famously by Willie Nelson. But also it was sung to me as a girl by my grandpa. I look at it in that sad but fond way that we all look at the things that remind us people who are gone who have touched our lives.
Thomas Kloc: Barber's Adagio for Strings will always be filled with hopefulness rather than mourning for me. I was playing it on a CD early one morning as I set out before sunrise, on a trip west from Hagerstown, MD to Greensburg, PA. As I travelled along southern Pennsylvania mountain country (where later the fourth 9/11 plane would crash to the ground), the peak of this wonderful piece occurred as the sun was rising in the east behind me in my rearview mirror. The stresses of this piece were, that morning, those of the earth giving birth to another day with a glorious sunrise on the horizon.
Kristin Olson: Oh my goodness, I have a whole playlist on iTunes dedicated to this. First and foremost, 'Collected Songs Where Every Verse is Filled with Grief' for String Quartet by Alfred Schnittke is one of the most beautiful and wholly grief-stricken pieces I have ever heard. I really recommend it. Some other selections: Elegy for Viola, String Quartet and Orchestra by Herbert Howells; second movement of Piano Concerto No. 2 by Shostakovich. I also love the fifth and eighth movements from the Quartet for the End of Time by Messiaen, and the 'Lacrimosa' from Mozart's Requiem.
Shannon Brown: What? - no doom metal? This list is incomplete then. Here's two of my favorites: "For My Fallen Angel" by My Dying Bride, and "In Ashen Tears (Thus I Cry)" by Morgion.
Monika Freidel:This piece (Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten) by Arvo Part I heard first at a special performance by our local symphony in Wisconsin. It was played as a memorial for my mother shortly after her death. Eight months later, I heard it again on the shores of a small lake in California as a part of a service for my brother, who had passed away suddenly. I have since listened to the Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten and other pieces by Arvo Part over and over. Your comment that sad beautiful music has the power to heal seems to be very much a part of my life. Thank you for this great article.
John Stuble:...as I'm wiping the tears from my eyes, I will share that on the day my mother died, I was leaving the hospital headed east and saw the most beautiful sunrise I'd ever seen. I flicked on the radio and heard Evanescence's 'My Immortal' for the first time that early spring morning. I cry my eyes out every time I hear that now. Although it may not be as moving as what you have posted here, that song holds a special place in my heart and always will.
F. Brute: Dinah Washington's 'This Bitter Earth,' especially the mix with 'The Nature of Daylight' from the Shutter Island soundtrack. My friend had it on his iPhone and we listened to the 8-minute song in complete silence while driving back from a trip. We continued in silence for another half hour or so. Amazing imagery, and the music laces Dinah's amazing vocals exquisitely. It conjures images of defeat, but at the same time flickers a hopeful light inside.
Read more reader comments on "The Saddest Music in the World" here.
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