“Here Comes the Bride!”
Of all the music associated with Weddings, the Richard Wagner “Bridal Chorus” from the German opera Lohengrin is certainly the most famous and one of the most long-lived compositions in the traditional wedding repertoire.
Here is Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” in its original operatic setting as part of Lohengrin.
Richard Wagner and Lohengrin
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) was one of the greatest composers of the 19th Century. He was also a very despicable person. Despite his many personal faults, Wagner’s music is still frequently performed and loved by many millions of people all around the world.
His opera Lohengrin was premiered on August 28, 1850 in the German city of Weimar under the direction of Franz Liszt (1811-1886), another one of the 19th century’s greatest composers.
The story of Lohengrin is typical Wagner: full of knights, magic and pseudo-gothic imagery. Lohengrin is the main character. He is a mysterious knight who suddenly appears in a boat pulled by a swan to save the honor of Elsa who has been falsely accused of murder.
Naturally, Lohengrin and Elsa fall in love. He agrees to marry her on one condition: she can never ask him about who he is or where he came from.
Lohengrin and Elsa marry and the “Bridal Chorus” is heard in the third act of Lohengrin as they leave the wedding ceremony:
“The chorus is sung in Lohengrin by the women of the wedding party after the ceremony, as they accompany the heroine Elsa to the bridal chamber. Furthermore, the marriage between Elsa and Lohengrin is an almost immediate failure.” Wikipedia
Of course, this being a Wagnerian opera, the marriage of Lohengrin and Elsa is doomed from the outset. The knight’s new bride just can’t help herself. On their wedding night she insists on knowing Lohengrin’s identity and background. Once Lohengrin discloses who he is and where he came from he hops back onto his boat which is pulled this time by a dove. Poor Elsa, drops to the ground dying of a broken heart as the opera’s final curtain falls.
The “Black List”
Early in my career as a wedding musician there actually was a “black list” circulated in the Roman Catholic Church of songs NOT allowed to be played at church weddings. the Richard Wagner “Bridal Chorus” was at the top of the list:
“The “Bridal Chorus” is opposed by many pastors of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod because of pre-First World War Lutheran opposition to the theater and to the pagan elements of Wagner’s operas.The Roman Catholic Church generally does not use the “Bridal Chorus”; one diocese’s guidelines regarding the piece states that the chorus is a secular piece of music, that it is not a processional to the altar in the opera, and especially that its frequent use in film and television associate it with sentimentality rather than worship.” Wikipedia
The Wagner “Bridal Chorus” is THE Traditional Wedding Processional
Despite the objections noted above, the Richard Wagner “Bridal Chorus” has certainly stood the test of time. In the last 164 years it has accompanied countless brides as they walk down the aisle to be wed.
Musically speaking, the Wagner “Bridal Chorus” is a perfect processional. It has a nice slow pace that is easy to walk to for marching down the aisle. It also sounds stately whether played on piano or organ. Finally, no other piece in the wedding repertoire causes everyone to immediately think: “Here Comes the Bride!”
Patrick Byrne, Piano
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