Processional music to announce and accompany the entrance of the bride in Western weddings has long been a tradition. And for over 100 years, since Princess Royal Victoria and Prince Frederick William of Prussia had it played at their wedding in 1858, Wagner’s Bridal Chorus (or “Here Comes the Bride”) has been the most popular music choice. But few know the origin and context of the piece, and therefore Wagner’s own surprise and amusement at it’s popularity…
The Bridal Chorus serves as the prelude to the third and final act of Wagner’s 1850 Opera, Lohengrin. The orchestra plays the march as our heroine, Elsa, and her mysterious new husband (later revealed as Lohengrin) enter the Bridal Chamber to be left alone for the first time as newly weds. Prior to this, their initial romantic encounter took the form of Lohengrin, an unknown knight, fighting for Elsa’s life in exchange for her hand in marriage and her agreeing not to ask of his name or birth place. She willingly obliged despite taunts from others.
But, being only human, curiosity gets the better of our heroine and once alone in the Bridal Chamber she asks her husband the fateful questions. Before he can answer, some previous opposers burst in to assassinate him before they have even a chance to consummate their marriage. Fairly mean timing. Lohengrin defends himself and must then go to explain the assassination attempt to the King. With the interruption dealt with, but still in the presence of the king and the court, Lohengrin now must answer Elsa’s question.
He reveals he is a knight of the Holy Grail and describes his wondrous home, Mont Monsalvat, but must leave and return there alone now that the secret is out. The real sting is his admittance that if Elsa had waited a year before asking, she would have succeeded in lasting the probational trust period and all would have been well. Lohengrin returns to his homeland and Elsa is left distraught. Wagner’s Bridal Chorus therefore precedes a fairly doomed marriage - lasting not even as long as Britney’s shotgun Vegas hitching (55 hours in case you’d forgotten).
Let this not put you off however! Indulge us a moment and allow an attempt to counter the association of the Bridal Chorus with tragedy…
The music accompanies the procession of the entire bridal party into the Bridal Chamber (before disappearing of course… Privacy here is not just a modern courtesy). At this point, the couple have just enjoyed their wedding day and no part of the deal has been broken. Their love for one another and Elsa’s trust in the mysterious knight has triumphed over the objection from others that she is naive to marry a stranger. He has already shown the utmost chivalry and risked his life to fight for her - a fairly unequivocal demonstration of true love. So, although preceding a tragic ending, the Bridal Chorus is also part of the celebration of a successful and highly romantic wedding. The musical accompaniment to a wedding where love defeats all odds stacked against it.
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