Tag Archive | classic

Wedding Music: Handel Water Music

Handel’s Water Music for Your Special Day

If you want to add a Royal touch to your Wedding day, try using some music from Handel’s Water Music.

Here is a modern performance of this ancient music that tries to present it as it may have sounded in Handel’s day:

Handel’s Water Music is a Suite Deal!

Handel’s Water Music is a group of 21 pieces that are grouped into three suites or sets of music. The video above is of all three suites and lasts just about an hour.

George Frederick Handel (left) and King George I on the Royal Barge

George Frederick Handel (left) and King George I on the Royal Barge

Handel and his Water Music

George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) was, along with J.S. Bach (1685-1750), one the most important composers of the Baroque Era. The history of music is divided up into several eras. The Baroque Era lasted from roughly 1600 until the deaths of Bach and Handel in the mid-18th century.

Although Handel was born in what is now Germany he had his greatest successes during the many years that he lived in Great Britain where he settled in 1712. That is where he composed his most famous work — The Messiah — which was premiered in Dublin, Ireland in 1741.

Handel wrote his Water Music for King George I (1660-1727) when the King requested a concert to accompany one of his many Royal cruises. The preferred method of travel for the British Royalty in those days was by boat.

Royalty can bore very easily so Handel, who was a relative new comer at the time, used this Royal commission to write some sprightly out-door music to entertain the King and his Court as the Royal fleet made its way up the River Thames.

Floating up the River Thames on one of the royal barges, Handel’s Water Music was heard for the first time on July 17, 1717:

“The first performance of the Water Music suites is recorded in the Daily Courant, a London newspaper. At about 8 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 July, 1717, King George I and several aristocrats boarded a royal barge at Whitehall Palace for an excursion up the Thames toward Chelsea. The rising tide propelled the barge upstream without rowing. Another barge provided by the City of London contained about fifty musicians who performed Handel’s music. Many other Londoners also took to the river to hear the concert. According to the Courant, “the whole River in a manner was couver’d” with boats and barges. On arriving at Chelsea, the king left his barge, then returned to it at about 11 p.m. for the return trip. The king was so pleased with the Water Music that he ordered it to be repeated at least three times, both on the trip upstream to Chelsea and on the return, until he landed again at Whitehall.” Wikipedia

Handel’s Water Music: “Air”

For Weddings, there are two sections of Handel’s Water Music that are still very popular today. The first is the “Air”, the fifth selection from Water Music Suite No. 1 in F. The term “Air” is what composers during the Baroque used to designate compositions that are song-like and not dance-based or a march. Most of Handel’s Water Music is made up of fast dances and lively marches so this “Air” is somewhat slower and quieter than the rest of the Suite.

Here is the “Air” followed by two livelier dances (a “Minuet” (3:20) and a “Bouree” (5:18)) from the Water Music Suite No. 1 in F. This video gives a look at how this popular music came to be used in the ballrooms of the 18th Century.

Handel’s Water Music: “Hornpipe”

The other selection from Handel’s Handel’s Water Music that is still popular with today’s Brides is the “Hornpipe” which is No. 11 and ends Water Music Suite No. 1 in F. The people of the Baroque Era loved to dance. The music of this time is filled with dances from various sources. Hornpipes were originally crude “sailor’s dances”. Baroque composers like Handel adapted them for a more refined aristocratic audience:

Again, this video gives you a valuable glimpse of how Handel’s music was enjoyed in the ballrooms of the aristocracy during the 18th Century. The video begins with the “Hornpipe” which is followed by a “Menuet” (3:11) and “Rigaudon” (5:57)

The “Air” and “Hornpipe” for Your Wedding

Using Handel’s music for your Wedding is a great way to add a touch of tradition without using the usual Wagner and Mendelssohn marches.

Played a bit slower than the above dance recording — remember you are processing slowly down the aisle — the “Air” makes a wonderful entrance or Processional.

Of course, at the end of your Wedding Ceremony you are not expected to march down the aisle at such a slow pace. That is where the “Hornpipe” shines.

Both the “Air” and “Hornpipe” sound really good on the piano. If a pipe organ is available, it is possible to capture the Baroque sound of the original.

The “Air” played slowly on the piano:

The “Hornpipe” played with gusto on a really big pipe organ:

Patrick Byrne, Piano

I would love to work with you to help make your own Wedding or special event a truly beautiful experience for your family and friends.

For more information please go to my main Wedding Music page.

Wedding Music: Mendelsson Wedding March

Music for the Start of Your New Life Together

In the repertoire of wedding music there are two traditional bookends: for the Bride’s entrance: Richard Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” (covered in a previous post) and for the Couple’s exit: the Felix Mendelssohn “Wedding March” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Here is what the Mendelssohn “Wedding March” sounds like in the original orchestral arrangement:

Mendelssohn and his “Wedding March”

Felix Bartholdy-Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Felix Bartholdy-Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Felix Bartholdy-Mendelsohn (1809-1847) composed the “Wedding March” to be part of the incidental music that he wrote for a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare was all the rage on the Continent during the 19th Century and inspired many composers to write operas and orchestral pieces based on his plays.

Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream incidental music was premiered on October 14, 1843 in Potsdam. The production was a spoken play and not an opera so Mendelssohn’s “incidental” music was used to introduce and enhance the stage play.

Thirteen of the fourteen pieces in the incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream were composed by Mendelssohn in 1842 specifically for the Potsdam production. Amazingly, what eventually became the opening section or Overture to this production was completed by him on August 6, 1826 when he was a lad of only 17!

The “Black List”

As I mentioned in my earlier post on the Wagner “Bridal Chorus”, despite the popularity of both of these pieces with Brides, for many years they were both “Black Listed” by some denominations due to their originally being “theatrical music.”

In most cases, such attitudes now seem as old-fashioned as a horse and buggy. Surprisingly, at the end of the Wikipedia article on the Mendelssohn “Wedding March” there is a link to an article in which Gary D. Penkala still vainly attempts to argue against the use of this music for a Wedding. Pretty ridiculous if you ask me!

Even more Felix Mendelssohn

Musically, the “Wedding March” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is wonderful as a Recessional to accompany the newly married couple as they walk down the aisle after the Ceremony.

Mendelssohn composed many beautiful compositions during his short lifetime which would be well worth your exploring as well. In addition to the Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream give a listen to his other orchestral works such as the Italian Symphony and his Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave). For piano solo he also wrote many short “Songs Without Words” that are miniature masterpieces.

Patrick Byrne, Piano

I would love to work with you to help make your own Wedding or special event a truly beautiful experience for your family and friends.

For more information please go to my main Wedding Music page.

Wedding Music: The Wagner Bridal Chorus

“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.

Lohengrin comes to save Elsa

Lohengrin comes to save Elsa




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

I would love to work with you to help make your own Wedding or special event a truly beautiful experience for your family and friends.

For more information please go to my main Wedding Music page.