Having been to several weddings in the last six months and having celebrated my own nuptials earlier this month, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on wedding music in this article. I have often been asked to recommend pieces for weddings, mostly for the ceremony but occasionally for the reception as well. This is usually a relatively simple task, as most engaged couples already have a mood or tone in mind, thus depending on what musicians they have hired or what instruments are available, we can narrow down the choices quite easily. For my own wedding though, I wanted the music to reflect us and to really accompany in mood and in timbre whichever part of the wedding it was accompanying, thus music was for me as important as the bible readings, as the colour theme, and probably as my wedding gown! Building the suitable playlist was quite a fun and fulfilling task, as I not only discovered new works but also ‘reconnected’ with some long-forgotten pieces.
Most Popular Wedding Marches – Richard Wagner: Lohengrin, Act III – Treulich gefuhrt, ziehet dahin
Before I list out my own suggestions, let us first turn to the two most popular works used in wedding ceremonies across the globe: ‘Bridal Chorus’ (also known as ‘Here Comes the Bride’) and ‘Wedding March’. The ‘Bridal Chorus’ is taken from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, and is in fact sung after the wedding ceremony in the opera, whilst the heroine Elsa is ushered to the bridal chamber. One might consider not using this piece because the marriage between Elsa and Lohengrin fails almost immediately!
Richard Wagner: Lohengrin, Act III – Treulich gefuhrt, ziehet dahin (Wedding March) (Berlin Deutsche Staatsoper Chorus; Berlin Staatskapelle; Otmar Suitner, cond.)
Most Popular Wedding Marches – Felix Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Wedding March
The ‘Wedding March’ comes from Mendelssohn’s Op.61 suite of incidental music for Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a comedy about four young lovers whose fates are controlled by the fairies who live in the forest in which the play is set. King Frederick William IV of Prussia commissioned this suite of incidental music in 1842, and this ‘Wedding March’ only became popular after it was used in the marriage ceremony of his own nephew, King Frederick III, to The Princess Royal, daughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria, who herself loved Mendelssohn’s music. What grandeur!
Felix Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Wedding March, Op. 61, No. 4 (Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra; Anthony Bramall, cond.)
For my ideas, I have concentrated on the three main musical components of a wedding ceremony and organised them by the mood or tone of the wedding. Please note that some of the pieces suggested will be too long for the processionals hence I am referring to the opening sections only.
For a more stately ceremony:
Procession of the Bridesmaids – Jeremiah Clarke: Suite in D Major
Jeremiah Clarke: Suite in D Major (arr. J Schafer) – XXII. The Prince of Denmark’s March: Rondeau (Joachim Schafer Trumpet Ensemble)
Bride’s Processional – George Frideric Handel: Water Music: Suite No. 2 in D Major
George Frideric Handel: Water Music: Suite No. 2 in D Major, HWV 349 – II. Alla Hornpipe (Capella Istropolitana; Bohdan Warchal, cond.)
Recessional – George Frideric Handel: Solomon, HWV 67
George Frideric Handel: Solomon, HWV 67 – Part II: Sinfonia ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Thomas Beecham, cond.)
All these are works from the Baroque period – music you may hear as soundtrack to celebratory scenes in a period drama!
For a more sacred ceremony:
Procession of the Bridesmaids – J.S. Bach: Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring
J.S. Bach: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147: Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring (Hungarian Radio Chorus; Budapest Failoni Chamber Orchestra; Mátyás Antál, cond.)
Bride’s Processional – Johannes Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Johannes Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn. Op. 56a, “St. Anthony Variations” – Theme: Chorale St. Antoni: Andante (London Philharmonic Orchestra; Adrian Boult, cond.)
Recessional – Johannes Crüger/Sigfrid Karg-Elert: Now Thank We All Our God
Johannes Crüger/Sigfrid Karg-Elert: Now Thank We All Our God (arr. M. Reger) – 66 Choral-Improvisationen (Chorale Improvisations), Op. 65: No. 59. Nun danket alle Gott (Leander Chapin Claflin, organ)
These were set to religious text and sound like hymns in terms of melody and texture.
For a more understated ceremony:
Procession of the Bridesmaids – George Frideric Handel: Water Music: Suite No. 1 in F Major
George Frideric Handel: Water Music: Suite No. 1 in F Major, HWV 348 (Prague Chamber Soloists; Andrew Mogrelia, cond.)
Bride’s Processional – Johann Pachelbel: Canon in D Major
Johann Pachelbel: Canon in D Major (English Chamber Orchestra; Raymond Leppard, cond.)
Recessional – Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons – Spring
Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons – Violin Concerto in E Major, Op. 8, No. 1, RV 269, “La primavera” (Spring) (Tianwa Yang, violin; Ensemble Tianwa Yang; Gerd-Uwe Klein, cond.)
These are secular pieces from the Baroque period but have a gentler character compared to the pieces I suggested for the stately ceremony.
For a formal ceremony with a livelier tone featuring the pipe organ:
Procession of the Bridesmaids – J.S. Bach: Fugue in G Major
J.S. Bach: Fugue in G Major, BWV 577 (Anthony Newman, organ)
Bride’s Processional – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Fantasy in F Minor
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Ein Stuck für eine Orgel in eine Uhr (Fantasy in F Minor), K. 594 – Allegro (Hans Fagius, organ)
Recessional – Charles-Marie Widor: Organ Symphony No. 5 in F Minor
Charles-Marie Widor: Organ Symphony No. 5 in F Minor, Op. 42, No. 1 – V. Toccata: Allegro (Simon Preston, organ)
These are virtuosic organ pieces that sound majestic and fun!
For a formal ceremony with an elegant tone featuring piano music:
Procession of the Bridesmaids – Frédéric Chopin: Preludes
Frédéric Chopin: Prelude No. 1 in C Major, Op. 28, No. 1 (Hélène Tysman, piano)
Frédéric Chopin: Prelude No. 3 in G Major, Op. 28, No. 3 (Hélène Tysman, piano)
Frédéric Chopin: Prelude No. 19 in E-Flat Major, Op. 28, No. 19 (Hélène Tysman, piano)
Bride’s Processional – Franz Schubert: 4 Impromptus, Op. 90, D. 899 – No. 3 in G-Flat Major
Franz Schubert: 4 Impromptus, Op. 90, D. 899 – No. 3 in G-Flat Major (Paul Badura-Skoda, piano)
Recessional – Robert Schumann: Toccata in C Major, Op. 7
Robert Schumann: Toccata in C Major, Op. 7 (Florian Uhlig, piano)
For a formal ceremony with a livelier tone featuring other instrumental music:
Procession of the Bridesmaids – Alexander Borodin: String Quartet No. 2 in D Major
Alexander Borodin: String Quartet No. 2 in D Major – I. Allegro moderato (Borodin Quartet)
Bride’s Processional – Igor Stravinsky: Pulcinella Suite – I. Sinfonia
Igor Stravinsky: Pulcinella Suite – I. Sinfonia (English Chamber Orchestra; Alexander Gibson, cond.)
Recessional – Giuseppe Verdi: La traviata “Drinking Song”
Giuseppe Verdi: La traviata, Act I: Libiamo, ne’ lieti calci, “Brindisi” (Drinking Song) (Yordy Ramiro, tenor; Monika Krause, soprano; Slovak Philharmonic Chorus; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Rahbari, cond.)
For a lighter ceremony featuring jazzy standards:
Procession of the Bridesmaids – Come Fly with Me (Frank Sinatra)
Recessional – chorus from Can’t Take My Eyes off You (Andy Williams and Denise Van Outen)
These are popular songs for weddings, but the versions above have a more upbeat tone. I also felt it was appropriate to choose a duet for the Recessional since that is the first piece of music that celebrates the union of the bride and the groom.
Now I shall not disclose what works I chose for our wedding ceremony, but I did surprise my husband and guests by playing a short piece just before the ceremony started when everyone was seated as well as one of my husband’s favourite pieces for my bridesmaids’ processional!
What music accompanied you down the aisle? Have you been at a wedding recently in which the music inspired you? Do please share your comments below!
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