The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which music best commemorates Memorial Day? | May 25, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day 2015.

graves with flags USE day

Try as I might, The Ear cannot think of better music to remember and memorialize the wounded and fallen than the “Nimrod” Variation from “Enigma” Variations by Sir Edward Elgar (below).

Edward Elgar

The holiday is much more complex and psychological than the usual funeral march permits.

It was, after all, the same music that the American documentary filmmaker Ken Burns used in “The War” — about World War II — played in a hauntingly wonderful solo piano arrangement that I simply cannot find on YouTube.

But the music’s meaning, and the way it affects you, can change in the instruments performing it.

So today I offer three ways or versions, arrangements or transcriptions.

First is the very popular YouTube video of the original orchestral version featuring Daniel Barenboim conducting in Carnegie Hall the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – with its great strings and brass — in memory of his predecessor, music director and conductor Georg Solti.

Second is a stirring rendition by a military brass band in England playing on Remembrance Day 2011 before Queen Elizabeth II:

And the third version is an a cappella choral version using the Latin lyric “Lux Aeterna” (Eternal Light) from the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead that was put together in England.

All versions are moving and attest to the emotional power of Elgar’s music.

But which version do you like best and why?

And is there other music you would play to commemorate Memorial Day?

The Ear wants to hear.



  1. Barber’s Adagio for Strings always gets to me.
    All three versions of Elgar’s work struck me but the soaring voices and musicality of the choir would make it my favorite.

    Comment by Carl Bowser — May 25, 2015 @ 4:30 pm

  2. Of the three, the Barenboim/Chicago Symphony won out. It brought me to the point of tears.
    The British version was solemn and impressive, particularly with the sound of the brasses, but it lacked the same level of emotion.
    The vocal arrangement –Lux Aeterna– (I listened to the King’s Chapel Choir) was stunning, especially in that acoustical setting, but didn’t reach me emotionally in the same way. Or maybe it was hearing the same piece three times in succession…

    Comment by Ann Boyer — May 25, 2015 @ 10:56 am

  3. Samuel Barber’s War Requiem, if for no other reason thatn Wilfred Owens’ poems.

    Comment by slfiore — May 25, 2015 @ 8:36 am

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