George Stimpson

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What is a dead march?

Dead march is the name given to a piece of music in slow tempo and suitable in solemnity of style and rhythm to accompany a funeral procession or to be played on a sad occasion. The term is synonymous with funeral march. Perhaps the most noted dead or funeral marches are from George Friedrich Handel's oratorio entitled Saul, from the third sonata of Ludwig van Beethoven's Third Symphony (Eroica), and from one of Frédéric Francois Chopin's sonatas. Chopin's famous funeral march (Sonata, Opus 35), however, does not express grief over the death of an individual, but expresses the Polish composer's feelings over the loss of the independence of his native land. The closing stage directions of several of Shakespeare's tragedies call for a "dead march." For instance: Hamlet, "A dead march. Exeunt, bearing off the bodies, after which a peal of ordnance is shot off"; Macbeth, "Exeunt, with a dead march"; and Coriolanus, "Exeunt, bearing the body of Coriolanus. A dead march sounded." A march in quick tempo is often called a military march.