INKPOT#78 CLASSICAL MUSIC FEATURE: Music for Weddings and Marriage Ceremonies
by Johann D’Souza
(1934-40) by Marc Chagall
An important ingredient which is often neglected in setting the mood for this great ceremony has definitely got to be the music. Ceremonial marriage music dates back as far as history can remember, from the festive processions of Medieval times to the majestic royal wedding cantatas of Handel and Bach, to Kenny G (sigh) in the 1990s and the revival of Renaissance music in themed-weddings today.
The most famous pieces to date are Mendelssohn‘s Wedding March and Wagner’s Bridal Chorus, it is not surprising to note that both these pieces are actually taken from musical dramas, the first from Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the other from Wagner’s Lohengrin.
Actually, if you look through the works list of various composers it is surprising that something as celebratory and happy as a wedding has not inspired more music. The few key examples include Bach’s Wedding Cantata No.202. It also not surprising for couples nowadays to look for music with a grand expression like that of ‘The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba- Handel’ or even selections from Handel’s Water Music. I have often found these two piece’s to be chosen by people who do not know much about classical music while the ardent classical lover will be spoilt for choice considering what there is to offer. In fact you can also tell if the person getting married is an ardent classical music lover just by the music he plays at his ceremony.
It is said that the first time that these two famous pieces were performed were at Princess Victoria’s and Prince Frederick William of Prussia’s wedding and it was here that the tradition actually got its footing. Somehow I find this hard to believe – does this mean that most wedding’s were solemn occasions with no music ( I suppose the groom realises that this is it- ball and chains for the rest of his life- well then it must definitely be a solemn occasion.)
An interesting fact of trivia is that the Widor’s toccata ( another favorite piece with couples) who was a relatively unknown composer at that time got his big break with the Fifth Organ Symphony. The grandeur of this piece sounds excellent on a good pipe organ which is able to resonate the sound in a cathedral if one has the opportunity to get an organist to play for you live, however if this does not happen then the best bet it to get a good CD to give you this effect as many churches nowadays do not have high ceilings and the cathedral atmosphere to throw sound out to every corner of the church. This piece has a majestic melody as it sounds like a self contained orchestra except that the organ takes the role for all the instruments.
Above/Left: Detail from “Bouquet with Flying Lovers” (1934-47) by Marc Chagall.
Choosing wedding music for this special day can be a nightmare as there is so much to choose from and fitting them in at the appropriate time during the mass and at the wedding banquet can drive you up the wall finding the correct piece to play . Here is just an example of how much there is, although I would think the best way to choose is actually for the bride and groom to choose their personal favourites, after all its their big day.
For the Grand Entrance to the church – you’ll be spoilt for choice. 1) Purcell’s- Trumpet Tune in D 2) Parry’s anthem -‘I was Glad’ 3) Handel’s -‘ The arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ – this is a favorite of many. 4) J S Bach’s -‘ Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. 5) Handel’s -‘ Let their Celestial Concert’s All unite. 6) Stanley’s -Trumpet Voluntaries Op 6, no 5 and Op 6 No 6. 7) Pachelbel Canon- another favorite choice of many. 8) J S Bach -Air on a G String
Two famous Hymns which are often picked and arranged for church ceremonies are
1) Gound ‘s Ave Maria- a personal favorite 2) Schubert’s Ave Maria- a personal favorite as well- these pieces have stood the test of time and always bring out both the grandeur of the ceremony as well as the sacredness of the whole ceremony which is equally important. 3) I somehow love Liszt transciption of Schubert’s Ave Maria which is even more majestic but with a tinge of virtuosity thrown in.
For music for the signing of the register,( well you now realise that its no turning back ) well this is open to a wide choice once again, 1) Franck’s- Panis Angelicus 2) Mozart’s -Alleluja from ‘ Exsultate Jubilate’ 3) Myer’s -Cavatina 4) J S Bach’s -Air on a G String ( Yes this piece can be slotted in anywhere) 5) Handel’s -Air from Water Music.
Then off course there is the final march out of the church as husband and wife, the composer that seems to be the most appropriate is Elgar with
1) Elgar-Imperial March- 2) Elgar’s- Pomp and Circumstance March no 4 3) Handel’s- March from Scipio 4) Purcell -Rondeau from Abdelazar 5) Prizeman’s- Toccata Song of Praise. 6) Guilmant’s -Grande Choeur in D 7) Mendelssohn’s -Midsummer’s Night Dream- While no points for originality but it’s the grandeur that makes the whole ceremony ending memorable,
While individual choices vary among individual’s I’ve heard of couple’s even picking ‘Star War’s’ tracks or Gustav Holst ‘The Planets’ as choices- Well to each his own.
This article is dedicated to all my friends and relatives who have tied the knot this year- Leon( editor), Vishrut ( Fellow Inkpot writer) Graham ( Brother) , Collette ( Cousin), Harold ( army buddy), Sudip ( Old College gang) and Michelle ( Fellow Cathecist).
xxx: .1999 Johann D’Souza