A Century of Wedding Music Evolution

In the past one hundred years, weddings have evolved from a ceremony saturated with tradition and etiquette to a unique expression of a couple’s union. As the ceremonies changed, so did the music.

“Bridal Chorus” – Richard Wagner

The “Bridal Chorus” is commonly referred to as “Here Comes the Bride.” It was written by composer Richard Wagner for the opera Lohengrin in 1850. In the opera, the song is sang after the wedding, and it was controversial to adopt it as a processional song during weddings. There a couple of reasons the song was controversial. Churches considered it secular and did not agree with the pagan elements in the song. The use of the song was considered frivolous and not in the name of worship. Additionally, Wagner was an anti-Semite, so Jewish couples would not use the song. One hundred years ago, the song would have been played on an organ, as it was originally intended. Today’s newlyweds occasionally use the traditional organ approach, but modern arrangements are preferred.

“Wedding March” – Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn wrote “The Wedding March” in 1842 for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was meant to be a big song meant for large cathedrals with big pipe organs. It gained popularity for wedding use when Queen Victoria’s daughter used it at her wedding in 1858. The song has not changed a lot over the past one hundred years, but pipe organs are not as common or as desired. A string quartet is a popular alternative to the traditional organ, but the song retains it’s gusto and celebrative appeal. This song is played regularly as a processional song or a recessional song.

“Canon in D” – Johann Pachelbel

Pachelbel wrote Canon in D during the 17th Century, and it’s origins are not entirely known. However, the song lost popularity and was lost for centuries. Then, in 1968, French conductor Jean-François Paillard created an arrangement that was more appealing in the 20th century. Still, the song was not popular at weddings until the 1980s. Despite its age, the song has been used in modern weddings as opposed to weddings of the early 20th century. There has not been a lot of variation from its original string quartet form, but today’s thirst for one-of-a-kind music has many different instrumental versions.

100 years of wedding music

The past 100 years has seen a number of trends in wedding music, and the top 100 wedding songs of the past 100 years can be seen at this link. The bigger evolution has been the breaking away from tradition and individualizing weddings. While nearly every wedding contained one of the songs above thirty years ago, today’s weddings often use non-traditional wedding music as a form of self-expression.