Research Stream


Helen Dell
The University of Melbourne

Singing Death: Reflections on Music and Mortality

Edited by Helen Dell and Helen M. Hickey
Routledge, London


Image: Selbstporträt mit fiedelndem Tod 1872, Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901). Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Death is an unanswerable question for humanity, literally the question that always remains unanswered since it lies beyond human experience. Music represents one of the most profound ways in which humanity struggles, nevertheless, to accommodate death within the scope of the living by giving a voice to death and the dead. This book engages with the question of how music expresses and responds to the profound existential disturbance that death and loss present to the living. ‘Singing Death’ ranges across genres from medieval love song to twenty-first century horror film music.Each chapter offers readers an encounter with music as a distinct way of speaking or responding to human mortality. The chapters cover a wide range of disciplines: musicology, ethnomusicology, literature, history, philosophy, film studies, psychology and psychoanalysis. Each chapter, in its own way, addresses these questions: How does music place or symbolise the dead for the living? Conversely, how does music express a failure in their placement? In general, how does music, as composed, performed and heard, respond to the brute fact of death for the living, the dying and the bereaved? The collection is accompanied by a website including some of the music associated with each of its chapters.

Download the Table of Contents


Download the Chapter Abstracts


Download the Notes on Contributors



Dell, H. and H. Hickey. Singing Death: Reflections on Music and Mortality. London: Routledge (Ashgate), 2017. 202pp.