Indulging in listening to sad music is one of life's finer pleasures, I think. From Strauss's Four Last Songs, Schubert's Winterreise, Valentin Silvestrov's Silent Songs (the song based on Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci, sung in Russian, is -- almost literally -- to die for) through to David Sylvian's Let The Happiness In, the better (i.e. most melancholic) moments of This Mortal Coil, The For Carnation or Dakota Suite or parts of Jacaszek's Treny album, miserable music is a vital part of my armoury against the world. I'm always on the look out for me -- and this thread on has pointed me to some new sad sounds to indulge in... but if y'all have any favourites please let me know.

Readers Comments

  1. Mahler's Kindertotenlieder are my favourites for a good wallow: almost unbearably bitter. Or in non-classical, Lady in Satin, the last album Billie Holiday ever made, where her voice is all shot to pieces and every song is about love gone wrong.

  2. Mark, for me it's
    Mahler or Dvorak.
    Mahler's Symphony No. 5 in sharp Minor
    Dvorak "Going Home", or Violin Sonata, Op. 57

    Both make me revel in the bliss of despair to the point where I'm actually glad I'm depressed

  3. Oh, forgot, yes--Billie Holliday, definitely. All of her work, for me.
    but also Edith Piaf for me, too.

    If you ever get a chance to hear Richie Havens, he's amazing, I don't know where he disappeared to.But his "Follow" brings back all the sorrow of adolescence in nice ways

  4. just in case you're interested I found Richie Havens singing "I Can't Make It Anymore"

    here's the link:

  5. Lorraine Ellison: 'Stay With Me'

  6. Ooh, and Steve briefly blogged about Sad Songs about 2 years ago here:

  7. Should have mentioned the sublime work of William Basinski -- -- and the band Rothko -- -- too...

  8. I will confess that during my adolescence a break-up was soundtracked by the Cure's 'Pornography' album - opening line: 'Doesn't matter if we all die...'

    But is there now music I actively seek out to generate a feeling of melancholy? I don't think so, not anymore. Even the most doleful pieces, whether it's PiL's apocalyptic 'Theme' or a delicate Satie piece, are likely to thrill because of nihilism or fragility, but never despair.

    Hmmm... But... There are some. From songs that resonate with a love, to the weird nostalgia/hauntology of Boards of Canada and Burial (particularly the latter's much-documented 'end of the dream of rave' effect), to the band Flux (formerly Flux of Pink Indians) with a song with the recurring line 'I don't feel angry anymore', to the African American Blues hollers recorded by Alan Lomax et al in the prisons of the South that are beautiful but come from a tough and oppressive lived experience. Perhaps an obvious thing to say, but all the above come from a context, from a connection to events in the world. I don't think that music can move me to sadness purely from its mathematics. The piece that comes nearest is Gavin Bryars 'Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet' (NOT the Tom Waits version) but the sadness is nonetheless heightened by the identity of the singer (a tramp) and his lyric combined with the pastiche of Hollywood strings.

    A related question a friend raised is 'can any music actually scare you?' Aside from the gags about a new [insert chosen hated musician(s)] record, is there anything that thrills you but genuinely makes you think twice about putting it on when you're on your own?

  9. matt (mountain7) Thursday 02 July 2009

    It's hard to think past Gorecki's 'Suite of Sorrowful Songs' and Arvo Part though these have become something of a cliche I guess. Rowan also picks out Gavin Bryars - his recent re-working of 'Sinking of the Titanic' with Philip Jeck is pretty stunning. James Blackshaw's stuff can be pretty intense, but I'm not sure 'sad' is the correct word to describe it. Does Tallis' Spem in Alium count as 'sad'? Certainly destroys me...

    There's a guy called Richard Skelton who records under a number of aliases - A Broken Consort, Clouwbeck etc. His stuff is riven with melancholy as it's mostly dedicated to his late wife. He also produces the most stunning ltd editions of his works - you can see them here:

    For more melancholy, I think the first Tindersticks record is hard to beat, or

  10. Thanks everyone...

    A whole bunch of ambient minimal electronica (Loscil, Labradford, Gas, Aix Em Klemm, Deaf Centre, Julien Neto, Marsen Jules, Pan American, Stars of the Lid etc.) float my misery boat, but Gorecki and Arvo Part (and e.g. SamuelBarber) -- cliche or not -- also do a fine job. And I'd forgotten the Tindersticks! Yes, that first album is very fine Matt.

    I'm not sure, Rowan, if any music actually scares me, but Basinski is both warm, hypnotic and forbidding... and forbidding has a fear element, I think...

  11. Rowan -- years ago, you played me some Whitehouse... that scared the bejeezuss out of me...

  12. Nick Cave gave a lecture on the love song in which he refers to 'Duende', which is what I think we are talking about here :

  13. Blimey, I don't listen to them anymore. I recorded one of their records for someone and had to turn the volume right down. And then had to leave the room cos I could still hear the stylus. Funny thing is, they're not scary in the way one thinks they want to be - i.e. plumbing the depths of transgression, encountering the soul's dark side, etc. It's something about the mismatch of their UK accents with US content - it's the crack in the theatre that makes it creepy. Saw William Bennett at a conference on Noise once - and he was very nice indeed, if course.

  14. matt (mountain7) Thursday 02 July 2009

    Cheers for that link Christian - I was at that Nick Cave lecture. Kylie appeared on stage at one point, softly speaking the words to Better The Devil You Know. The Dirty Three, who opened the evening, fit into the melancholy mould very well.

    As for scary music, Sunn O)))'s Black One is pretty scary in places (and brilliantly laughable in others). For the last track, they locked the claustrophobic Xasthur inside a coffin, inside a hearse and recorded the outcome... Class.

  15. I agree with you about sad songs and even when I feel far sadder than I would ever want to be, as I have many times this year, I still find them appealing. I like Robert Wyatt very much and have always found this one particularly moving .Then there is John Dowland whose songs have the sublime feeling of unquenchable sadness especially when sung by Andreas Scholl .

  16. Martyn Everett Thursday 02 July 2009

    One of the saddest songs I know is Pete Seeger's song "Sacco's letter to his son"

    matched only by Bert Jansch's "Needle of Death"

  17. I was once very scared when a friend of a mutual friend of ours, Mark, played me Keith Hudson's 'Pick A Dub'...I would have to qualify this simple recollecion, by admitting to not being entirely free of stimulation at the time...but the 2nd or 3rd track on that wonderful album disturbed me severely that evening...As did the B-side of the Human League's 1st ever single, way back when...when, if I recall aright indeed, I was similarly stimulated.

    As for melancholy - Marc Almond's cover of the wonderful Peter Hammill's wonderful 'Vision' - which plumbs the deepest depths of the conclusion of the descent into the depths that is side 3 of 'Torment & Torreros' - is about as low as you can go.

  18. J.C. Hallman Friday 03 July 2009

    I choose Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5 -- in particular, the last movement.

    It's sad, in a kind of delirious wailing kind of way. The story behind it is that S. wrote it as a kind of ironic commentary on the Soviet Union. Stalin, of course, missed that part completely, and took the final strained notes among the trumpet, trombones, and french horns as evidence of the country's (and presumably his) greatness. Shostakovich said that anyone who thought that "was an oaf."

  19. I love Satie - Gymnopedies and Gnossienne No 1. Both are perhaps more wistful than sad, but evoke a beautiful melancholy. They're pieces I'd like played at my funeral which says it all really.

  20. Joshua Meggitt Friday 10 July 2009

    The overwhelming irony of Louis Armstrong singing 'What a Wonderful World' really cannot be bettered.

  21. The late Angolan singer, Teta Landu, is the saddest of saddest singers. You don't even need to understand the words - Portuguese or Kikongo usually - to weep when you hear him. So much nostalgia, 'saudades' and the sense of the displaced soul is overwhelming.

  22. The Schubert, Gorecki, Satie, and Mahler are on my list too, particularly the latter. "Ich bin der Welt" must be one of the saddest songs ever:

    I'd add Barber's setting of "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" too -

    John Lee Hooker's "Too Young" is also awesomely sad -

    Finally, Van Morrison's version of "Raglan Road" is a classic sad song - not online, sadly!

  23. I love listening to sad music, it makes me feel alive. I'm always hunting for emerging acts who can affect me emotionally with their music. Here's a guy on myspace who I've just gotten into, he specializes in sad songs.

    Quite an odd voice though and the production could be better.

    I think "Casimir Pulaski Day" by Sufjan Stevens has to be one of the saddest songs of all time, though.

  24. Hannes Kirchhof Friday 05 February 2010

    What do you think of music that has been composed by youtubers?
    There's a lot fo sad music to find.
    Check this one out for example!

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