Elegy: Elegies in Poetry and Music

Posted on April 14, 2022

Although the term “elegy” is often used to refer to a type of poem, it can be used in the context of music as well. Read more about the meaning of elegy, examples of elegies, and the difference between an elegy and eulogy.

What is an elegy in music?

In music, an elegy is a type of sad and mournful song. Common themes in elegies often include the death of someone and lamenting over someone’s death. Not surprisingly, the word “elegy” is derived from “elegos,” a Greek word meaning “a song of mourning.” However, the word isn’t used only in music but can also refer to a poem dealing with similar themes.

Although the word “elegy” has its origins in poetry, musical elegies can take the form of an instrumental composition as well (as you’ll see in the examples below).

What is the difference between an elegy and eulogy?

The terms “elegy” and “eulogy” have their roots in the same Greek word “elegos,” thus they are both about lamenting and mourning someone’s death. However, a eulogy is more specifically a speech or writing about the dead person. 

Eulogies are actually a form of praise for the person they are written about. In other words, a eulogy is more about remembering the good things about someone who has passed away and celebrating them, whereas an elegy is more about mourning the person’s passing. A eulogy may be given at the person’s funeral, for instance.

What are some examples of elegies?

Many examples of elegies come from classical music, including “Elegy, Op. 58” by Edward Elgar. However, there are examples of elegies in popular music as well. For instance, Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind” can be considered an example of an elegy. The song in question is known for being performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Examples of elegies originally in the poetic form include “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by the English poet Thomas Gray. Another well-known example of an elegy is the American poet Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” which was written following the death of President Abraham Lincoln.

Learn about song elegies and other music terminology

Read more about elegies and other concepts in our complete Musician’s Glossary article full of music-themed terminology.

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