It’s time for Music Monday! And since this past weekend was the start of the annual wedding season, I’m going to continue with that theme – welcome to Wedding Week.
As you know, I’m a musician and have been playing for weddings for over twenty years. I’ve performed for all kinds of weddings in my life time. Traditional church weddings, outdoor weddings at a golf club, weddings that took place in a hall or even in someone’s house and outdoor weddings. Which let me tell you – as a pianist, battling the elements can be a challenge.
Weddings that are held in a church – a more traditional wedding – tend to have more restrictions than a wedding held outside or in a community venue. Depending on the church you attend, you may have limited options of music to choose from.
Today – I’m going to list five of the most popular wedding songs used in traditional wedding ceremonies. But first…
The Romantic Era – Romanticism
As a classical musician, it would be remiss of me to talk about traditional wedding music without first going into the history of the music. Let me introduce you to the Romantic Era. One of my favorite eras for classical music. I started studying classical piano at the age of twelve and my love of classical music is still strong.
The Romantic Era was an artistic movement that began in Europe near the end of the 18th century. Also known as the Age of Enlightenment – the Romantic Era was a reaction to the Industrial revolution. The world of music, literature and art changed and a new world was born.
If reincarnation is a thing – I firmly believe that I was an artist during this era. The Romantic Era, Romanticism, was one of the largest artistic movements of all time. Music and art was revolutionized. A new world was born.
I won’t go too much into the Romantic Era in this post. I’m most definitely not a historian expert. I did spend a few years studying the history of music. A subject I could speak on for hours.
Let’s move on to the most popular wedding marches and music.
Bridal March – Richard Wagner
The most popular prelude played at weddings is the Bridal Chorus – or more commonly known as Here Comes the Bride. It’s one of those songs that makes me giggle when I play it on the organ. I always think of the lyrics I learned as a kid. You know which ones I’m talking about.
The Bridal Chorus was composed by German opera composer, Richard Wagner as part of an opera called Lohengrin in 1850. Wagner was a well-known opera composer during the Romantic Era.
Like many musicians of that era (Mozart), Wagner struggled with financial difficulties. His music did not earn him great success. It wasn’t until 1850-1852, that Wagner saw moderate success from his compositions.
If you’re looking for a traditional march to walk down the aisle to – then the Bridal Chorus is for you. If it’s good enough for the Royals… I’ll just leave this little clip for you to enjoy. I would love to play at the Abbey. That’s a childhood dream – I think for every organist.
A Midsummer Night Dream
Next up, we have the infamous Wedding March from A Midsummer Night Dream. This music is often used as a postlude when the newly married couple walks out of the church. It is a joyous and triumphant piece. And I have played it so many times at weddings – I almost know it by heart.
The Wedding March, was composed by Felix Mendelsson in 1842. Famously known for its use in the Shakespearean play, A Midsummer Night Dream. And one of my favorite Shakespearan plays. Bet you didn’t know that about me – when I was in high school, I was very involved in the drama club. I saw most of the plays at the local theatre during that time. Hamlet is high on my list too.
Prince of Denmark’s March
The Dane in me, can’t help but be a little proud of this next recommendation. The Prince of Denmark’s March (Trumpet Voluntary) was composed by an English baroque composer named Jeremiah Clarke. Clarke was the first organist of the new St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Clarke was a brilliant English composer who was born in 1673 but the date has not been confirmed. The March, is Clarke’s most well known piece and has been used in weddings around the world for centuries including royal weddings.
Sadly, Clarke’s life ended tragically with suicide. I speculate that like many musicians at that time (and today), Clarke struggled with financial success. According to research, he fell in love with a woman who was beyond his reach which led him to a severe state of depression.
Classical music fans may know his popular compositions – King William’s March and Ode on the Death of Henry Purcell.
Again – if it’s good enough for the royals… here is a clip from perhaps the most popular wedding of all time. I don’t apologize for this. My mum, a former Brit, was obsessed with the Royals – just the look on Di’s face as she walked into the cathedral. I’m near tears.
Don’t judge me. I’m a softie.
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
Perhaps this piece should have been number one of my list. It is one of the most popular pieces that couples use as recessional music. When I met with couple’s to select music for their special day – I often recommended this song to be used as part of the procession – when the bridal party enters the venue. The recession – is when the bridal party walks out of the venue. Typically, a church.
Jesu, was composed by one of the world’s most infamous composers, Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was from the Baroque period and was born in 1685. He started composing music at just ten years old. Like Wagner, Bach came from a large family – a very musical family.
Unlike Mozart and Wagner, Bach had much success in his career. In the early 1700’s, Bach worked as a musician for Protestant churches. He learned to play the organ and evolved to chamber music.
Johann Sebastian Bach may be one of the most well-known composers of all time. His music has been studied by classical musicians around the world for centuries. I remember learning preludes from The Well Tempered Clavier as part of my repertoire for exams. I still use many of those preludes in church services today.
While Jesu is one of Bach’s most commonly known pieces, I can’t forget to mention Air on G String which I also use at weddings which sounds lovely on the piano, organ or classical guitar.
I’ve scoured YouTube for the last hour but to no avail. I don’t think Jesu has been used in any of the Royal Weddings. Or perhaps there is no recording of it. If you find one – please let me know. This performance by The Edinburgh Singers in 2008 will have to do. Just listen to that oboe.
I tried to play the oboe once. It’s a difficult instrument. Not much different from the clarinet. But it took a lot to purse your lips just right. The oboe in this rendition is just beautiful.
Canon in D
Last but not least, is the Canon in D by German composer Johann Pachelbel. Date of composition is unconfirmed but thought to be between 1680 and 1706 during the Baroque Period.
This music predates the Copyright Law which came to fruition in 1930-1931. A few decades too late in my opinion.
Pachelbel was known as an important composer of church and chamber music, Unfortunately, not much of his chamber compositions survived. Copies of the original Canon have been lost over the years – last traced to Berlin State Library.
As a composer, this really saddens me. Pachelbel was a gifted composer. I have lost the count of how many times I have performed this song at weddings. There have been so many versions of this song floating around on YouTube. It is such a beautiful piece and one I enjoy performing.
I tried finding a live orchestra performance of Canon, but research tells me that a lot of cellist’s don’t like performing this song. I guess it’s easier for pianists. So, I guess a recorded version will have to do. Here’s one from the London Symphony Orchestra which might be my favorite rendition of the song.
If you’re into piano music, I hear Yiruma does a beautiful cover.
I’m a huge fan of The Piano Guys – I love this video. It’s a wedding parody but this rendition of Canon is epic. It always makes me smile.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed my top 5 suggestions for traditional wedding music. Don’t worry though – I will be working on some other playlists and recommendations for you this week. It is wedding season – and although I’m mostly retired from weddings, I still enjoy playing this type of music – and listening to it.
Make sure to follow me on YouTube and check out my many playlists!
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