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Two Classic Pieces of Wedding Music

Almost everyone is familiar with The Wedding March, and The Bridal Chorus, two pieces of music that have become associated with weddings the world over. These two musical selections were written by different composers and are from different operas but have become so interchangeable that many people confuse them. The Wedding March was written for a ballet based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn in about 1826 and The Bridal Chorus from Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, written in approximately 1850.

In wedding ceremonies all around the world, The Bridal Chorus is traditionally played as the bride enters the chapel/church/synagogue, the opening chords of the piece serving as an alert for the guests to stand and turn to see the bride walk down the aisle in all her radiant beauty. Mendelssohn’s Wedding March is most often used as the recessional at the end of the wedding ceremony.

As traditional as these pieces are, many musicians that play at weddings despise having to play them. The reasoning is one of repetitiveness. Hear any piece of music as many times as wedding musicians hear The Wedding March and The Bridal Chorus and you’ll probably be screaming for relief.

It’s interesting that these pieces of music became associated with weddings at all. Certainly both the Wagner opera and the Shakespeare play deal with the concepts of love and marriage, but in a rather twisted and bizarre way. Lohengrin features the wedding of Lohengrin and Elsa, but it is a marriage arranged as a threat (Elsa must agree to marry the knight Lohengrin if she wants him to save her life) and under a condition that may be the Arts’ first reference to a prenuptial agreement. Elsa is forced to promise that she will not ask her husband’s name or where he came from. Elsa, of course, breaks the deal and winds up dead. Quite a happy ending, eh? From this we get The Bridal Chorus. .

A Midsummer Night’s Dream may be worse on some levels. It does feature two marriages that wind up happy, but also has the Amazon queen Hippolyta caged like an animal and dragged to the palace of Theseus, and the fairy queen Titania being drugged and thereby tricked into loving Bottom. If The Bridal Chorus comes from the opera with the first artistic allusion to the prenup, then The Wedding March comes from the ballet with the first artistic allusion to date rape.

The music, however, transcends the sources and most people that hear The Wedding March and The Bridal Chorus today associate the tunes with weddings in general, many having no idea where the selections came from or the stories behind them. It’s interesting, however, to know the stories behind the music and the next time you hear either selection you can smile knowingly to yourself.

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