Tag Archive | classical music

Wedding Music: The Bach Air on the G String

The Bach Air on The G String

The Bach Air on the G String has nothing to do with either breathing or ladies undergarments.

Here is a performance of J.S. Bach’s original orchestral version played on 18th Century-style instruments. There is not a thong in sight:

J.S. Bach and The Air on the G String

Wedding Music Bach Air on the G String

J.S. Bach (1685-1750) possibly the greatest composer of all time

J.S. Bach (1685-1750) was probably the greatest composer who ever lived. He wrote over a thousand pieces that we know of and a very high percentage of these — like The Air on the G String — are true masterpieces. It is interesting to note that, even with over a thousand compositions of Bach’s that have survived, many more have been lost over time.

It is not unusual for famous compositions like The Air on the G String to acquire fanciful new names never intended by their composer. J.S.Bach never called this piece “Air on the G String”. He wrote it about 1720 as the second movement, Aria, from the third of his four Orchestral Suites which is how it is performed in the above video.

In J.S. Bach’s day, the terms aria and air were simply used to denote a melodic, song-like piece in contrast to the many dances and marches that were written at the time.

 

An New Arrangement and a New Name

Wedding Music Bach Air onthe G String

August Wilhelmj (1845-1908)

All through the 19th century there was a movement begun by Felix Mendelssohn to popularize the music of J.S. Bach with the general public. Composers and academic musicians had long appreciated J.S. Bach but Mendelssohn and others wanted to bring this great music to a wider audience.

Among these fans of J.S. Bach was the German violinist August Emil Daniel Ferdinand Wilhelmj (1845-1908) who arranged the Bach Aria from the Orchestral Suite for solo violin and piano (the Air starts after interview at 3:32):

In arranging the Aria for solo violin, Wilhelmj changed the key from D to C so that the exquisite melody could be played on one string. Hence the new name Air on the G String.

Wihlemj arrangement of the Bach Air on the G String became very popular. In fact, this was the very first piece by J.S. Bach to be recorded during the early years of sound recording. It was recorded in 1902 by the Russian cellist Aleksandr Verzhbilovich and an unknown pianist as the Air from the Overture No. 3 in D major.

The Bach Air on the G String and Your Wedding Music

Such a beautiful melody should be on any list of Wedding Music.

Because of its slow, thoughtful pace it should be used as one of the Preludes before the Ceremony. If there is a Unity Ceremony during the Wedding service, and you need quiet music for a minute or two, the J.S. Bach Air on the G String is a perfect choice.

It can be played on either piano

…or 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: The Schubert Ave Maria

The Franz Schubert Ave Maria

Here is an orchestrated version of Schubert’s Ave Maria with the solo being sung beautifully by Luciano Pavarotti:

Ave Maria from the New Testament to Sir Walter Scott

Many settings of the “Ave Maria” have been written over the centuries. The biblical text is from the New Testament:

the Schubert Ave Maria

Mary, The inspiration for the Schubert Ave Maria

“This well-known devotion of the Latin Church is based upon the salutations addressed to the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel and by Elisabeth the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:28 ; Luke 1:42 ). Its earlier and shorter form follows closely the words of Scripture, with the addition only of the names ‘Mary’ and ‘Jesus’; ‘Hail (Mary), full of grace; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Jesus).’ As thus recited, it cannot be called a prayer, but may be considered either as a memorial of thanksgiving for the Incarnation; or as one of those devotional apostrophes of departed saints which are found even in the writings of the Christian Fathers and in early Christian inscriptions.” Hasting’s Dictionary of the New Testament

During the Romantic Era of music (which lasted from the lifetime of Ludwig van Beethoven into the early 20th Century) the traditional ancient Latin text for the Ave Maria was still widely used. However, the German text of the Schubert Ave Maria uses a translation of the English text “Hymm to the Virgin” by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) which was written as part of his long narrative poem: Lady of the Lake (1810):

Wedding Music Schubert Ave Maria

Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake was the source of the text for the Schubert Ave Maria

Ave Maria! maiden mild!
Listen to a maiden’s prayer!
Thou canst hear though from the wild;
Thou canst save amid despair.
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
Though banish’d, outcast and reviled –
Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer;
Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria

Ave Maria! undefiled!
The flinty couch we now must share
Shall seem this down of eider piled,
If thy protection hover there.
The murky cavern’s heavy air
Shall breathe of balm if thou hast smiled;
Then, Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer,
Mother, list a suppliant child!
Ave Maria!

Ave Maria! stainless styled.
Foul demons of the earth and air,
From this their wonted haunt exiled,
Shall flee before thy presence fair.
We bow us to our lot of care,
Beneath thy guidance reconciled;
Hear for a maid a maiden’s prayer,
And for a father hear a child!
Ave Maria.

Franz Schubert and his Ave Maria

Wedding Music Schubert Ave Maria

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

 

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was a major composer of the Romantic Era who had a tragically short life. Among his many gifts, Schubert was a very skillful song writer. The Schubert Ave Maria is just one fine example of his talent as a song writer.

The original Schubert Ave Maria was written in 1825 as part of a collection of seven song settings based on lyrics from Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake: (“Ellens Gesang III” (Hymn to the Virgin), D. 839).

 

As with most of Schubert’s songs, his original German-text version was written for a singer with piano accompaniment:

With such a beautiful melody and a text by Sir Walter Scott, the Franz Schubert Ave Maria soon became a favorite song in the parlors of the 19th Century.

Wedding Music Schubert Ave Maria
Schubert’s music was enjoyed in parlors throughout the 19th Century

The Schubert Ave Maria in the Old Church

When I began my career in the sixties during the pre-Vatican Roman Catholic Church, every Wedding in a Roman Catholic Church included a setting of Ave Maria.

Here is how the Ave Maria was used way back then:

Wedding Music Schubert Ave Maria

The long-held tradition of leaving flowers at Mary’s Altar

 

 

Immediately after Communion, the Bride, accompanied only by her Maid of Honor would walk over to Mary’s Altar (in those days Roman Catholic Churches had, in addition to a Main Altar, at least one side Altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The other side Altar would be dedicated to either St. Joseph or another saint such as the church’s namesake.) The Bride would place a small bouquet of flowers on Mary’s Altar and then kneel before it in silent prayer before returning to the Main Altar and her new husband. During all of this, Ave Maria was performed.

 

 

Of all the changes in Catholic church music that were initiated after Vatican II, the Ave Maria was one of the last to be jettisoned. I remember it being used as described above well into the 1980s. I like to think that most of the resistance to modernizing and eliminating this traditional part of the Catholic Wedding Ceremony was due to the beauty of the Schubert Ave Maria.

The Schubert Ave Maria and Today’s Weddings

I can’t remember the last time that I played a Wedding Ceremony where the Ave Maria was used as described above. The tradition may be out-of-date but Schubert’s music is timeless.

Because of its gentle, quiet nature the Schubert Ave Maria is perfect as the Prelude for any Wedding. It sounds wonderful performed as a piano solo:

…or with solo instrument such as a cello playing the voice part:

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 Bach Prelude in C

The Bach Prelude in C Major from Book One of the Well Tempered Clavier

J.S. Bach’s famous Prelude in C is another great choice for use in a Wedding from the Baroque Era.

Here Bach’s Prelude in C played on a harpsichord which is likely the instrument for which Bach intended it:

J.S. Bach and His Prelude in C

J.S. Bach in 1720's

J.S. Bach in 1720’s

Johann Sebastien Bach (1685-1750) is very likely the greatest composer to ever have lived. He wrote the Prelude in C as the opening piece of his monumental work: The Well-Tempered Clavier (or Das Wohltemperierte Klavier). There are two volumes of the The Well-Tempered Clavier. The Prelude in C is from the first volume which was published in 1722. The second volume appeared in 1742.

As an indication of their importance in the history of music,  the 48 Preludes and Fugues that make up the two volumes of the Well-Tempered Clavier are often referred to by musicians as our musical “Old Testament”. Caring this analogy a little further, Ludwig van Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas, published nearly a century later between 1795 and 1822, are consider to be our musical “New Testament.”

In the nearly four centuries since Book One of the Well-Tempered Clavier was written countless piano players have at the same time enjoyed and struggled to master these difficult keyboard pieces.

Since the piano was not invented until near the end of his life, the Clavier that Bach had in mind was either the harpsichord or a clavichord (a smaller, private version of the harpsichord).

“Modern” Interpretations of the the Bach Prelude in C

With the development of the piano after Bach’s death during the second half of the 18th Century, the harpsichord quickly came to be considered “old fashioned.” With the piano becoming the primary keyboard instrument, Bach’s music was naturally adapted for it.

Here is a performance of the Bach Prelude in C played on a modern piano:

The Bach-Gounod Ave Maria

In 1853 the French operatic composer Charles Gounod (1818-1893) created a vocal adaptation of the Bach Prelude in C. For over a century the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria” was very popular and was used for many Weddings:

The Bach Prelude in C and Your Wedding

The Bach Prelude in C is an excellent choice when you are looking for a quiet, meditative piece. It works well as part of the Prelude selections played before your Wedding Ceremony or to accompany a unity ceremony during the Wedding Ceremony.

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 Jeremiah Clarke Trumpet “Mystery”

The Jeremiah Clarke Trumpet Tune and Ayre and Trumpet Voluntary or Prince of Denmark’s March

The English composer Jeremiah Clarke (c. 1674 – 1707) has had the great misfortune to have his two best compositions wrongly attributed to his much more famous contemporary Henry Purcell (1659-1695):

Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Tune and Ayre:

Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary or Prince of Denmark’s March:

The Confusion between Jeremiah Clarke and Henry Purcell

Jeremiah Clarke (1659-1707)

Jeremiah Clarke (1659-1707)

You will still, quite often (as in one of the above videos), hear both of these pieces being attributed to the wrong composer: i.e. the Henry Purcell Trumpet Tune and Ayre and the Henry Purcell Trumpet Voluntary or Prince of Denmark March.

Music historians have known better for at least 50 years. The rightful composer of both works is Jeremiah Clarke. Now, when dealing with 400-year old music it is expected that there will be, from time to time, some confusion regarding who wrote what.

When I was in college as a music major  I learned Eight Little Preludes and Fugues by “Bach” on the pipe organ only to later find out that these pieces are actually now believed to have been written by the virtually unknown composer Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780).

These things happen. It seems to me, however, highly suspect that Jeremiah Clarke should have be robbed of his fame the way he has been for several centuries.. Of  course, as with the Eight Little Preludes and Fugues, the confusion over the authorship should not in any way detract you from enjoying or using the wonderful music for your Wedding.

I have no evidence to back this up, but I would suspect that Jeremiah Clarke ‘s lack of acknowledgment originally may have stemmed, at lest in part, from the fact that he committed suicide:

“A violent and hopeless passion for a very beautiful lady of a rank superior to his own” caused him to commit suicide. Before shooting himself, he considered hanging and drowning as options, so to decide his fate, he tossed a coin—however the coin landed in the mud on its side. Instead of consoling himself, he chose the third method of death, and performed the deed in the cathedral churchyard.Suicides were not generally granted burial in consecrated ground, but an exception was made for Clarke, who was buried in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral(though other sources state he was buried in the unconsecrated section of the cathedral churchyard.” Wikipedia

With such narrow-mindedness being the prevailing attitude in the early 18th Century it is quite easy to imagine that the name of hugely famous Henry Purcell was substituted for that of the out cast “suicide” Jeremiah Clarke.

The Jeremiah Clarke Trumpet Tune and Ayre

The Trumpet Tune and Ayre written by Jeremiah Clarke for the stage production The Island Princess which was a joint musical production of Clarke and Daniel Purcell (1664-1717), Henry Purcell’s younger brother.

The “Ayre” or “Air” is the quieter song-like section sandwiched between the main Trumpet Tune:

The Jeremiah Clarke Trumpet Voluntary or Prince of Denmark’s March

Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, also known as the Prince of Denmark’s March, is believed to have been written in honor of Prince George of Denmark, husband of Queen Anne of Great Britain.

The Royal connection has come down the centuries as Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary was used as the Processional for Lady Diana Spencer on the day of her marriage to HRH Prince Charles at St. Paul’s Cathedral (1981, about 2:18 in the video below).

So, Jeremiah Clarke did eventually receive the recognition that he was due. If he was listening, he would be pleased to hear his music accompany Princess Diana’s walk down the aisle at St. Paul’s Cathedral where he had been organist in the late 17th Century.

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: 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: The Pachelbel Canon in D

The Pachelbel Canon in D

The Johann Pachelbel Canon in D is one of my personal favorites. I am always happy to see it requested by a Bride.

Here is this beautiful piece in its original version as composed by Pachelbel in the 17th century.

Pachelbel and his Canon in D

Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)

Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)

Johann Pachelbel (1653-1709) lived a long-time ago. He was born 35 years before J.S. Bach (1685-1750) who, for most non-musicians, is about as far back in time as they care to listen.

Like Bach, Pachelbel was a hard working German musician who composed a great deal of music during his life time. As is the case with most of the pre-Bach composers, most of their music has long been forgotten unless you are into “early music.”

 

Pachelbel is thought to have composed his Canon in D for Johann Cristoph Bach’s wedding in October of 1694. Johann Cristoph (1671-1721) was J.S. Bach’s oldest brother and a pupil of Pachelbel.

Much of the music of the Baroque Period (which is the era that we are dealing with here) was written for a specific occasion, such as a Wedding, and then forgotten.

This is apparently what happened to the Pachelbel Canon in D which was not published until 1919.

The Pachelbel Canon in D becomes a Hit!

Jean-Francois Paillard's hit record

Jean-Francois Paillard’s hit record

Being published doesn’t necessarily mean being played and the Pachelbel Canon in D remained virtually unknown for another half century.

The Canon in D was recorded by Arthur Fiedler in 1940 but again didn’t get much notice.

That was not the case when Jean-François Paillard (1928 –2013) recorded the Canon in D in 1968.

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At the time that this recording was released I was just getting into Classical music. I well remember what a sensation Paillard’s recording of the Canon in D caused first among Classical music fans and then the general public. To think that this beautiful piece had been virtually unheard of for 274 years was hard to understand.

Naturally, Brides immediately fell in love with the Pachelbel Canon in D and it soon began to challenge the Wagner “Bridal Chorus” for the title of most-popular Processional or entrance song. It was perfect: a Classical piece that helped the Bride break with tradition. Boomer brides were a rebellious lot!

Of the many recorded versions of  the Pachelbel Canon in D the one I like best is by pianist George Winston (b. 1949).

George Winston's December

George Winston’s December

Winston’s Canon in D was recorded in 1982 for his album December. Thanks to Winston, the Pachelbel Canon in D hence became associated with Christmas in addition to weddings  and is sometimes even referred to as the Christmas Canon. I like Winston’s version because, while honoring Pachelbel’s original “Canon”, he explores it almost like a Jazz musician would.

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What is a “Canon” Anyway?

The term canon can be confusing. In the world of music it has nothing to do with howitzers or other military usages. Canon is a cousin of rounds and fugues where melodies are echoed by one another in different voices or instruments.

In addition to the intertwined polyphonic melodies, Pachelbel achieved the hypnotic effect of his Canon in D by supporting the swirling melodies with a musical technique called a ground bass. The ground bass in the Canon in D can easily be heard in the first eight notes of the piece. These eight notes repeat over and over for the entire Canon in D forming its hypnotic foundation or “ground”.

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

Wagner

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

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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.

Debussy, Brahms and Wagner

Claude-Achille Debussy (1862-1918)

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This week, on August 22, will be the 150th anniversary of one of the greatest composers of piano music: Claude-Achille Debussy. Debussy lived until 1918 and during his lifetime, spanning the American Civil War and World War I, he created some of the most beautiful piano music ever written.

The amazing thing about Debussy’s music is that just like Chopin a generation earlier, Debussy created beautiful music that in terms of technique, harmonies and tonal colors far exceeded just about anything else written by his contemporaries.

Compare “Claire De Lune” which was written between 1890 and 1905 with a more typical popular piano piece from that era “Star of the East” (1883):

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

 

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In the realm of classical piano music, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) created a marvelous series of ground-breaking piano pieces near the end of his life like this Op. 118 Intermezzo which was written in 1893:

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

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Both Brahms and Debussy despised the man who was — for better or worse — the main musical influence of their lifetimes: Richard Wagner (1813-1883).

Wagner clearly wanted to create a Music of the Future which is the catch phrase that he created to describe his music when he wrote a book of that title in 1861. At the time it was published, the impertinence of the struggling opera composer seemed ludicrous. But Wagner definitely had the last laugh on his many detractors as his musical style dominated music for over a century.

Both Brahms and Debussy rebelled against the Wagnerian tsunami that swept across Europe and America during the late-19th and early-20th Centuries.

Wagner undoubtedly wrote some marvelous masterpieces. His egoistic personality led him to the long drawn out form of the music drama (i.e. opera) and works like Tristan und Isolde, the four-part Ring Cycle and Wagner’s final music drama Parsifal (1882) which weighs in at about four hours.

Here is the “Good Friday” Scene from Act III of Parsifal.

It was this glorious heavy, plodding Wagnerian sound that dominated European and American classical music well into the 20th Century.

In fact, the Wagnerian influence lasted up through our own day when it comes to movie music. The clearest example of this is the 1981 film Excalibur. The movie’s score not only copied the Wagnerian style but actually uses substantial portions of Wagner’s music such as here in the opening of the film:

I can’t listen to a movie composer like John Williams (Star Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters, Harry Potter, War Horse, etc.) without thinking of Wagner.

It was the turgid, mythical Wagnerian style that Debussy fought against by composing miniature masterpieces for the piano like “Golliwog’s Cakewalk”.

Debussy, displays his Gallic wit by “quoting” a Wagnerian phrase (1:10-1:45) and adding his own anti-Wagnerian laughter in the upper registers. It still brings a smile to my face every time I play it!

Saying ‘I Do’ to Wedding Planning

Robins and flowers are sure signs of Spring. Also, for some lucky couples, Spring is the time of year to plan for their wedding.

Despite the bad economy, natural disasters and cut-throat politics, people still fall in love. Most Americans get engaged during the Holidays. They also prefer to get married during the Summer. This makes a lot of sense in Wisconsin since during those months you have a fair chance of having good weather.

An article on Sunday in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gives brides and grooms a nice peek at about half a dozen books about wedding planning. I am sure that these titles only scratch the surface.

If you are still planning your wedding for 2011 and have not yet booked a musician, I urge you do so ASAP. In fact, it is not too early to book me for 2012.

Elsewhere on my web site you will find specific information that will help you plan the best music for your special day.