Composer Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792) attended the masked ball in the Stockholm Opera House on March 16, 1792, when Gustav III, an enlightened autocrat, a cultured king, and Kraus' patron and friend, was shot from behind by an assassin. When Gustav died a few days later, Kraus was commissioned to compose two works: a dour and dismal instrumental Symphonie funèbre in C minor for performance in two weeks and a passionate and dramatic Funeral Cantata in D minor for performance a month later. Into those two works, Kraus applied all that was best in himself to expressing the deepest indignation and the profoundest grief. And when Kraus himself died from tuberculosis in December 1792 at the age of 36, his own Funeral Music was played at his funeral.
The Symphonie funèbre is in four slow movements for oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trombones, tympani, and strings: an opening funeral Andante mesto, a soto voce Larghetto, an austere chorale on the hymn "Let us bury this body," and a closing Adagio based on the hymn theme. The Funeral Cantata, scored for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, is set in two unequal parts consisting of eight and four movements each. Setting a powerfully expressive text by his friend Leopold the court poet, Kraus' Funeral Cantata is entirely dramatic in its structure, overwhelmingly passionate in its melodies, and wholly without the comfort of God or religion in its choral fugues.