by Daniel Hathaway
When British musicians have needed a piece of memorial music, their choice since the turn of the 20th century has often been the “Nimrod” movement from Edward Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, or Henry Walford Davies’ A Solemn Melody.
Since 1935 when it was born as the second movement of his Op. 11 String Quartet, Americans have frequently turned to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, a piece the composer later texted with the words of the Agnus Dei and re-published for unaccompanied chorus.
A more recent and very personal entry into the category of musical laments is Aaron Jay Kernis’s Elegy…for those we lost, originally a piano piece composed after the composer had contracted and recovered from COVID-19. He has written, “I strived to create music to counterpoint the terrible pandemic and honor the dead — to try to give some measure of solace to families by sharing a personal expression of grief.”