Tag Archive | piano

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: J.S. Bach Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

J.S. Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is an unforgettable choral piece with one of the best know melodies of all time:

J.S. Bach and his Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

J.S. Bach in 1720's

J.S. Bach in 1720’s

Johann Sebastien Bach (1685-1750) was very likely the greatest composer of all time. He wrote an amazing number of works and almost every one of them is a masterpiece of the highest order. I recently read a biography of Bach that pointed out that, even though Bach is known for producing a great number of compositions, the majority of what he composed was discarded or otherwise lost during his lifetime.

J.S. Bach came from one of the major musical families in what is now Germany. That is why we need the “J.S.” to distinguish him from his many uncles, brothers and sons who were all, themselves, very talented composers.

J.S. Bach’s music was a culmination of the Baroque Era which stretched back to about 1600. Shortly after his death, and that of George Frederick Handel in 1758, composers like Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ushered in a the new Classical Era of music. No matter what style composers wrote in during the centuries after Bach’s death they have all praised him as being their musical Master.

Even though J.S. Bach has had a tremendous influence on the history of music, he lived a rather provincial life never straying very far from the small towns and cities of central Germany and never visiting the major musical capitals of his day: Paris, London, Rome, etc.

For convenience, J.S. Bach’s many works are referred to by their BWV numbers (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis or Bach Works Catalogue). Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is just one section (at 16:29 and again at 26:09 in the video below) of one of Bach’s many church Cantatas: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (“Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life”) BWV 147.

This Cantata was originally written in 1716 for one of the Sunday’s of Advent but remained unperformed at that time. Bach recycled and expanded the Cantata in 1723 for the feast of the Visitation. It was first performed on July 2, 1723.

Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring is “rediscovered”

Dame Myra Hess Recital during The Blitz

Dame Myra Hess Recital during The Blitz

As I mentioned above, Bach’s music has always been studied and admired by professional musicians. He is sometimes referred to as a “musician’s musician.” Despite that “insider” admiration, Bach’s music has sometimes lacked a greater appreciation by the general public who are often more interested in the “latest and greatest.”


In 1926 the English pianist Dame Myra Hess (1890–1965) published her arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring for piano solo.


Londoners lined up to hear Dame Myra Hess during The Blitz

Londoners lined up to hear Dame Myra Hess during The Blitz

Dame Myra Hess was a  very good pianist but she is most remembered today for two things: popularizing  Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and heroically continuing a recital series during the London Blitz of World War II. Between September 7, 1940 and May 21, 1941 40,000 Londoners were killed by the German air raids. Dame Myra Hess forever endeared herself to the British people by “keeping calm and carrying on” by playing beautiful music in the midst of such death and destruction.

In Chicago, since 1977, the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series has been presented every Wednesday just after Noon at no charge in the Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center by the International Music Foundation.

Adding some “Joy” to Your Wedding

Because of its quiet nature and slow pace, J.S. Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is suitable as a Processional for the Bride or as part of the Prelude music selections.

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.

Debussy, Brahms and Wagner

Claude-Achille Debussy (1862-1918)




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)





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)


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!