Music for your wedding ceremony

The variety of music played and heard at wedding ceremonies all over the world is enormous, yet (in Western culture at least) there are two undisputed favourites, whose “airplay” far outstrips their competitors, even today.

The first of these, usually heard as the bride walks down the aisle at the beginning of the ceremony, is the Bridal Chorus from Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, more popularly known as Here Comes The Bride, or simply the Wedding March.

The first four notes of this melody are so ubiqitous that they have become a kind of “shorthand” for weddings, frequently quoted in film scores and so on.

The second of this famous twosome is the Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s suite of incidental music for Shakespeare’s celebrated comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Again, the first seven notes of this tune almost shout “wedding”.

The Mendelssohn is normally used at the conclusion of the ceremony as the happy couple walk back down the aisle and the cameras flash.

So how did these two pieces come to be so popular? Well, just as today, royal weddings are trendsetters and it was the marriage of Princess Victoria (that’s Queen Victoria’s daughter) to Prince Frederick William of Prussia in 1858, which used both pieces, that established a trend that was to last well into the 21st century.

Needless to say I’ve played both the Wagner and Mendelssohn many, many times on both organ and piano but they do tend to provoke a bit of a “Marmite” reaction from couples.

In church services, other popular classical pieces such as Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark March or Widor’s Toccata are substituted, while in civil ceremonies in hotels or other wedding venues, tradition will often go right out of the door, with the couple’s choice in modern pop music creating the right mood for every part of the wedding ceremony.

In the end, it’s your choice. There are a few other good reasons why you may not choose to go with the “Big Two”, however.

Firstly, if you’re marrying in a church, you may not be aware of this but neither piece is remotely “religious”. Indeed, some Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches actively discourage either piece being played because they regard their subject matter as “pagan”.

And whether you’re religious or not, you might want to be aware that in Lohengrin, the Bridal Chorus is actually sung AFTER the ceremony, when the women of the wedding party are accompanying the opera’s heroine, Elsa, to the bridal chamber.

It doesn’t work out well, with the groom killing five of the wedding guests and abandoning his estwhile bride – who then dies of grief.

Just thought you might like to know!