Though we love almost every aspect of a “traditional” wedding, as usual here at Let Them Eat Cake, we always wonder how or why a particular tradition came to be, especially when it leads to us learning something new.
This week, while catching up on one of our favorite TV shows, we realized during a wedding scene that we’ve never taken a dive into the history behind the songs synonymous with weddings – the “Wedding March” and the “Bridal Chorus,” better known as “Here Comes the Bride.”
These songs weren’t always a part of a wedding ceremony – in fact, it’s believed that no music whatsoever was played during the ceremony, only when it came time for the reception celebration.
It came as no surprise to us – or, we’ll assume, you, dear reader, if you’ve read our blog for any length of time – that this wedding tradition is indirectly linked to Queen Victoria of England. We’ve written about Queen Victoria and her ability to enact new and lasting traditions – like that of the white wedding dress – a few times on the blog. This time, however, the attribution is awarded to her daughter and oldest child Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise when she wed Frederick William IV of Prussia in the Chapel Royal at St. James’ Palace on Jan. 25, 1858 – almost 165 years ago.
The princess decided that she wanted to go against regular tradition and walk down the aisle to the sound of Richard Wagner’s “Here Comes the Bride,” and from the altar with her new husband to Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” – both men being two of the princess’s favorite composers. Like her mother before her, the princess’s decision created a massive shift in wedding traditions of generations after her.
“Here Comes the Bride” is a tune that many have probably already hummed in their head upon reading the words, but like its companion the “Wedding March,” it was not at all written with a wedding ceremony or any lasting tradition in mind. The original song was composed in 1850 by Richard Wagner for his opera “Lohengrin.” In the opera, the song is sung by the women in the wedding party for the opera’s heroin Elsa, as they guide her to her bridal chamber on her wedding night. (How romantic, right?) There are words that go along with the song, but unfortunately none of them are “here comes the bride.”
What we weren’t aware of when it comes to the song is that of the political and religious controversy that comes along with it. There is some belief that Lutheran and Roman Catholic religions refuse to play the song because of Wagner’s use of pagan stories and themes throughout his operas. Those in the Jewish community also refused to play the song at any of their wedding celebrations due to Wagner’s thoughts on those of the Jewish faith. According to Washington Jewish Week newspaper in Washington D.C., Wagner is known for writing many anti-Semitic essays, while also allegedly being Adolf Hitler’s favorite composer.
A lot less controversial is that of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.” According to an article about the composer by Time magazine, Mendelssohn originally wrote the piece as part of an 1842 production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Mendelssohn ended up dying at the age of 38 in 1847, years before his piece would become popularized for generations to come.
(Kelly here: an additional fun fact about Mendelssohn is that according to classical music historian Robert Greenberg, “[Mendelssohn] He became the prototype for the modern conductor. He was the first to use a baton on a regular basis. He programmed music back to the 16th century, something new at the time. And he created an infrastructure that made the life for his musicians easier. He got them pensions and dental plans, creating a loyalty within an orchestral core that was used to being treated like cattle.” He seems like he was a little bit of a better person than Wagner.)
It’s been a while since Queen Victoria and her daughter have shaken up the wedding world. But whether you’re opting for a traditional wedding march or something slightly more modern, we just stress the important of making your day exactly what you want, no matter what tradition may be. Queen Victoria did and she changed history.
I’ve had a few friends say, “I do” recently, and each decided to add a modern spin to their processional and recessional music. My two favorites included instrumental versions “Love on Top” by Beyonce and the theme song from “The Office” as they walked down the aisle hand in hand.