Wagner’s Bridal Chorus

To use or not to use. That is the question.

Some dioceses and parishes take the decision out of your hands. They just ban it outright. Requests for it have become more scarce, at least in my meetings with engaged couples and wedding planners. Who knows; maybe they still ask organists to play it? Our parish had at least one wedding last year in which it was used. It’s part of the Catholic Culture of Complaint: whine long enough and loud enough and the Church will eventually give in to your wishes.

Why do so many musicians, liturgists, and clergy dissuade couples from using it? There is no screaming single reason, but a medium hum of several:

– The music is from Richard Wagner’s 1848 opera Lohengrin. The secular source for the music is enough for many people to dismiss it as a liturgical possibility.

– The bridal chorus is not the accompaniment for the nuptials of Elsa and Lohengrin, but part of the procession to the wedding bed. It’s hard to deny sex has its role in marriage, so I find this reason rather flimsy.

– The marriage itself is doomed when Elsa, on the wedding night, tempts fate by doing what she has been asked not to do. In the end, she loses her beloved and dies a tragic death from grief. Some liturgists point that the Bridal Chorus accompanies a ill-fated couple, but you could say the same thing for the psalms Jesus and the disciples sang after the Last Supper.

– Others will wave the banner of anti-Semitism over the composer and his works.

What I find more objectionable liturgically is the idea of instrumental processional music accompanying the bride and some or all of the wedding party. If the liturgy has indeed begun, the choice should be (for the reform2 crew) an antiphon and psalm or (for everybody else) a hymn or song.

But if you’re going to have the bride traipse down the aisle to instrumental music, why is the Bridal Chorus so bad compared to Shakespeare or King George’s 1717 yacht party on the River Thames?

If you’ve been a bride turned away from the wedding music about which you’ve always dreamed, and nobody gave you a good reason why, this is the best I can give you.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgical Music. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Wagner’s Bridal Chorus

  1. Gavin says:

    I’ve played it before. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but I still got paid. This is what happened:

    I gave the bride the obligatory phone call, and she asked for “traditional music, like the ‘here comes the bride’ song.” I didn’t feel too much like complaining, since at this point I don’t KNOW too much else, so I asked my boss if he had any problems with this. He told me he didn’t, and so I did it.

    I have no personal problem with it; the history you mention is troubling but it’s better than a U2 song or whatever. For my wedding (and yes, I and not my wife will be picking the music for that) I want the Finale from the Fireworks Music for the procession. I don’t really care that the Wagner or the Handel aren’t “sacred pieces”, since a wedding DOES have a somewhat secular character to it.

  2. Liam says:

    I will give another reason: because the tune is so intimately associated with ersatz cinematic/TV wedding-paloozas. Ditto some other music similarly afflicted (including Mendlessohn, and music that got a bump from You-Know-Who’s wedding a generation ago). This is not so much about music becomeing cliche from overuse, but with vigorous confrontation of the syndrome whereby a sacrament and liturgy get overweighted by adaptions of cinematic/TV moments by self-styled auteurs.

    Here’s a question: would the Bridal March be *better* if the people sang the customary English words to it? This is a case where something objectively might be marginally better but subjectively much more awful, don’t you think?

  3. Brigid says:

    Thanks for this *great* summary. Helpful in my work with couples.

    Better than U2? Hmmm… have to think about that. Bono is a Christian and has been married to same woman for over 15 years. Surely he has a song in there somewhere…

    Peace!

  4. Fortunately, in a tradition where all liturgical music is sung without instrumental accompaniment, neither Wagner nor his eternal companion, Mendelsohn, are really a problem at Orthodox or Eastern Catholic wedding services. Sorry that you lot still have to deal with that sort of rot.

    Nonetheless, when I was contemplating a western wedding, I found that a beautiful alternative for the procession or recessional music for a wedding was and is Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fanfare on Rhosymedre. That, and a lot more beautiful and tasteful music, may be found here:

    http://www.perkinschapelweddingmusic.com

    And for those who wish just to go to the Fanfare, it may be found here:

    http://www.perkinschapelweddingmusic.com/wed15.wax

    Enjoy.

  5. Todd says:

    Thank you, Bernard. You would have appreciated the wedding of my friends Dave and Annie many years ago. They requested the Litany of Saints as the two of them processed into the Church.

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  7. David Seng says:

    When did the Bridal Chorus by Wagner become popular as a processional in the US?

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  11. I respect those who oppose its use on grounds either religious (or cultural, in the case of Jewish objection). However, there is almost zero association for congregations with the source of the song, and as such I see it as similar to writing hymn lyrics to bar tunes – the music itself has no moral qualities…

    There are some great version of the Bridal Chorus here:

    http://weddingmusicproject.bandcamp.com/album/bridal-chorus-variations

  12. How’s this for a reason: every single male in the congregation or wedding party, in all likelihood up to and including, will be juggling in his head that old playground parody, “Here comes the bride/Big, fat and wide/See how she wobbles/From side to side!”

    Matrimony is a Sacrament, a conduit for God’s grace upon and through the ministers, the newlyweds. Should such an easily degreased part of pop culture really be thought worthy to open a sacred ceremony?

    While I love polyphonic and instrumental sacred music and Masses, as has been pointed out below, following the strict liturgical adherence to plainchant enforced at various times and in various rites throughout history would nip the question in the bud. At the least, I would hope such a hypothesis would make us a bit more circumspect about our choices for Church music before the abuse is so bad that the only solution is to ban all non-Gregorian music in the West as Pope Pius X saw the need to do.

    • Todd says:

      Most guys these days are too young for the parody.

      Pop culture? Well, sure. That’s why I suggest a hymn or song.

      Strict adherence to plainchant? Not liturgical but a matter of personal taste in music.

    • Steve says:

      I know hardly anyone who would associate that childish lyric with the Wagner wedding march… I am certain you are mistaken on that account.

      I question your reference to the song as a part of pop culture… it is rather a simplistic reworked version of an operatic piece, but to equate it with pop culture??

  13. Ch says:

    Banning the Bridal Chorus is nothing but an AMERICAN STUPIDITY AND CRAZINESS!!! What’s even funnier is that these AMERICAN Catholic churches ban Bridal Chorus because it’s a “secular” piece of music, yet they don’t ban Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, which is also just as “secular” as the Bridal Chorus. The Catholic churches in the UK have no problem with it, and the Catholic churches in Japan have no problem with it either. It’s only the STUPID AMERICANS that can come up with such kind of CRAZY idea, just like their RETARDED and STUPID fetish with their guns!!! This is sickening! Ugh!

    • Todd says:

      I have little about which to argue, Ch. Stupidity, I observe, is a human characteristic. As an American I can own up to much of it from my culture or even me. But other places have their own quirks too.

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