Keepin’ It Classy: Composition #15/50: Beethoven Funeral March Number 1 by Johann Heinrich Walch.

These are the stories behind the world’s most memorable classical compositions.

Death is a natural part of life. We are all born and one day, we will all die. There is nothing as constant and safe a bet in all of human history than the fact that one day we will all die. Death comes for ditch diggers and astronauts, poets and hotel maids, it comes for Kings and Queens as well. When commoners die, friends, colleagues and family members gather to pay their respects, share some favourite memories and then, to join together in prayer and song to help send the newly departed on their way to the afterlife (if one believes in that) or to eternal nothingness and slow decay (if that is what you believe as well). Every town and city has a funeral home of some sort. Funerals happen all of the time. They are so common that, in fact, most of us pay them no heed as they occur. We live and then we die. Death is really nothing out of the ordinary.

Except when it is.

The funeral procession for Queen Elizabeth of England.

As I write these words, it is Monday, September 19, 2022 or, as history will remember it, the date of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II of England. Most of us live our whole lives in a form of relative anonymity. Not the Queen. She has sat on the throne of England and, by extension, many countries around the world that England has colonized, for seventy years. Her life was impactful in very profound ways. Her image is known by millions of people around the world. Her legacy of service before self casts a nostalgic glow over a world and a time that many deem as being simpler and more humane. She did not live in relative anonymity. She was one of the most recognizable people in the whole world. And yet, Death still came for her, too. But, while Death came, it did not take her away in silence. The Queen’s death has instantly become an event that will go down in the annals of British history. Thousands of people have stood on the side of the road or have turned to their televisions and computers to watch her coffin pass through the streets of various English towns and cities. Many have left bouquets of flowers and/or jam sandwiches at the gates of Buckingham Palace. Even more will watch her funeral service as it plays out today. Through it all, the Royal Family will mourn in a public manner as befits their status as the head of the nation. And yes, there will be music, too.

Throughout the course of the history of Classical music, there have been many occasions in which composers have created works to be played during the funeral services for members of the nobility. In a previous post, we have discussed funeral marches that were composed by Frederic Chopin and by Edward Elgar *(You can read these posts here and here). Both of those famous funeral marches will find their place in today’s events in London as part of the ceremony honouring Queen Elizabeth. There is a third famous funeral march that is well known in England and which will probably be played today but which is erroneously entitled, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1”. First let me tell you why this march is so famous in England and then, I will tell you a bit about why the title is misleading.

A cenotaph in England. Walch’s funeral march often follows the playing of The Last Post.

“Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” is a march of remembrance that has been played in England for decades as part of that country’s Remembrance ceremonies held each year to honour those soldiers who have fallen in the fields of battle in various global conflicts. It is always played after the Last Post sounds and, as such it has become part of the soundtrack to the British way of life and is always viewed as being a respectful and honourable piece of music. The thing that is misleading about the title, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” is that this composition was not written by Beethoven at all. Instead, the music for this composition was written by a German conductor and composer named Johann Heinrich Walch. Walch had a history of creating funeral marches that commemorated the end of wars. He created a piece called “Pariser Einzugsmarsch” at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. This piece of music was also played for Adolf Hitler as he watched German troops marching through the streets of Paris in 1940. The march that has come to be called, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” was written when Walch was working under the auspices of the Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg who, as you may know if you are a history buff, was a link in the hereditary chain between the British Monarchy and the aristocracy of Germany that had existed for centuries, including during WWII. The famous “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” was thought to have been originally written by Walch for Prince Albert who was Queen Victoria’s consort. Prince Albert was the Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha at the time. Since then, this composition has been played at the funerals of King Edward VII, British Prime Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as having been played throughout the procession that saw Queen Elizabeth’s coffin pass through the streets of England.

The man, himself…Johann Heinrich Walch…composer of the erroneously titled, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1”.

So again, as was the case with the funeral marches written by Chopin and by Elgar, I urge you to click on the link below and give Walch’s composition a few moments of your time. I write with great confidence when I say that I am quite certain you will hear this piece of music played at some point in the funeral proceedings. And if it is played and there are credits displayed on television that call this piece “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1”, I hope that you will all wag your finger at the screen and state aloud that you know the real composer is Johann Heinrich Walch and that you read it first on Tom Macinnes’ little blog series called, Keepin’ It Classy.

I will end by offering a simple wish for Queen Elizabeth and all others who happen to share her death date today…thank you to each of you for being part of our world for as long as you managed. Many blessings to you and those you love as you transition from life to death. May whatever happens next be painless. Let it be a form of release. God Bless you all.

The link to the video for the composition, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” by Johann Heinrich Walch can be found here.

The link to the official website for Johann Heinrich Walch can be found here.

The link to the classical music radio station found in my very own town of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada…Classical 103.1…can be found here.

***As always, all original content found within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

2 thoughts on “Keepin’ It Classy: Composition #15/50: Beethoven Funeral March Number 1 by Johann Heinrich Walch.”

  1. Very nice !
    An estimated 4 billion people watched todays events . Half the world population.
    That is history in itself!

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