Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S.173: No. 7, "Funérailles" - Franz Liszt

In October 1849, the world of piano repertoire was graced with a profound piece by Franz Liszt titled "Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S.173: No. 7, 'Funérailles'". Delving into realms of expressive depth, the composition stands as a testament to Liszt’s innovative prowess and reflective capacity. It showcases a 'mourning procession' through its somber octaves and poignant chords, embodying a musical elegy of grand scale and emotive power. 'Funérailles' is not just a technical exhibition but an introspective journey into grief and remembrance, a pivotal work that remains a staple in the sophisticated pianist's repertoire.

The Historical Context of 'Funérailles'

The solo piano piece 'Funérailles' is the seventh in a cycle of ten pieces composed by Liszt under the collection Harmonies poétiques et religieuses. Released on the cusp of Liszt’s maturation into a leading Romantic composer, 'Funérailles' was composed following the 1849 uprising in Hungary, Liszt's native country. The piece notably manifests a response to the death of his friend and Hungarian patriot, Lajos Batthyány, executed in the aftermath.

Published in 1853, 'Funérailles' was part of Liszt's exploration into the interconnection between music and extramusical themes. His inspiration was not just personal grief but the wider emotional landscape shaped by the European political upheavals of that era. This connection to historical events lends the piece an enduring resonance that transcends the individual and speaks to collective experiences of loss and commemoration.

Uncommon at its time of conception, 'Funérailles' is an example of programmatic music, where a narrative fuels the compositional process. Concertgoers and scholars alike perceive the haunting ambience of the music as an aural monument to the fallen—a testament etched in melody and harmony.

Dissecting 'Funérailles': A Theoretical Perspective

Anchored in the key of F minor, 'Funérailles' utilizes a thematic structure that mirrors the stages of a funeral rite. The opening section, marked as an octave-laden Lento, paves the somber onset with a descending bass motif—a musical intimation of bells tolling for the lamented.

Key to understanding 'Funérailles' is Liszt’s use of chromaticism and harmonic progression. The central section's heroic octave leaps reflect Liszt’s admiration for Beethoven, with rhythm and touch creating a textured narrative. The innovative harmonic shifts and virtuosic demands outline an arc of expressive intensities, from mourning to heroic defiance.

Liszt's predilection for thematic transformation surfaces as the piece evolves through various shades of darkness and light. The shifting harmonies correspond to the fluctuating sentiments of a public in mourning, accentuated by technically demanding passages that underscore the composer's prowess.

The somber themes revisit the listener before Liszt concludes 'Funérailles' with an eloquent dolente passage, a resolution bathed in subtlety and sophistication. This narrative approach to piano composition embodied in 'Funérailles' reflects Liszt’s visionary blending of virtuosity and expressive narrative.

Unveiling the Appeal of 'Funérailles'

The allure of 'Funérailles' is found in its synthesis of powerful expression, historical narrative and pianistic innovation. The piece resonates deeply with performers and audiences alike due to its emotional sincerity and embodiment of the Romantic ethos.

Pianists approach 'Funérailles' as a canvas for technical display and profound musical storytelling, affording it a special status in the piano literature. The composition's historicity, combined with its moving melodies and harmonies, furnishes it with an evergreen appeal, capable of reaching those attuned to the nuanced language of music.

Its enduring popularity among pianists and listeners is also attributed to the intricate demands it places on the performer, setting a benchmark for technical and interpretive mastery. 'Funérailles' thus stands as a monument in Romantic piano music—imbued with historical consequence and stirring emotional depth.


In conclusion, Franz Liszt’s 'Funérailles' rises above mere piano performance into a realm where history, emotion, and musical innovation coexist. Its rich harmonic language and technical challenges have established it as a pillar of the advanced pianist’s repertoire, ensuring its legacy for generations of musicians. 'Funérailles' is not merely a composition to be played; it is an experience to be inhabited, a journey to be undertaken, echoing the pain and passions of an era.

The spirit of 'Funérailles' lies in its potent blend of narrative and music, a testament to Liszt's genius—translating the turbulence of his times into a masterpiece of enduring significance.

Publication date: 30. 01. 2024