Fryderyk Chopin gave the title “funeral march” to only one of his compositions. And it wasn’t the one you’re probably thinking of.
It’s the third movement of the Piano Sonata No. 2 that’s commonly known as THE Chopin funeral march. It was played at his burial in 1849 at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Earlier, during his funeral, the three-thousand mourners at the Church of the Madeleine heard two of Chopin’s preludes as well as Mozart’s Requiem.
But the only piece Chopin chose to CALL a “Funeral March” did not appear in print for more than 35 years after his death. He wrote it while he was a teenager studying at the Warsaw Conservatory—perhaps as early as 1826, the year Polish philosopher Stanislaw Staszik died. Chopin participated in his funeral. The next year, Chopin’s sister Emilia died of tuberculosis.
But it probably was not a particular event that inspired this early Funeral March in C Minor. The genesis could have been purely musical. Writer Jim Samson notes that “Chopin was attracted to this genre perhaps more than any other composer.” After the C Minor march and before the famous 1844 piano sonata, specters of the funeral march form appeared in a prelude, a fantasy and several nocturnes.
Biographer Tad Szulc locates the impulse in Chopin’s obsession with his own mortality. He calls this early piece, the Funeral March in C Minor, the product of “a precociously death-haunted sixteen-year-old." - Joe Brant & Don Lee