Recently, a friend planning her wedding asked my advice about what music should be played when she walks down the aisle. Somewhat a traditionalist, I suggested the "Bridal Chorus," which is more commonly known as "Here Comes the Bride." I was amazed when she told me an acquaintance at her church had suggested selecting something else, as that particular piece was originally the accompaniment to a rape scene in a play.
I’m sure the acquaintance in question was well meaning, but sadly, mistaken. The "Bridal Chorus" was written by the German composer, Richard Wagner, for his opera – Lohengrin. In the opening scene of Act 3, the "Bridal Chorus" is played as Elsa and the mysterious knight, Lohengrin, retire to the bridal chamber after their wedding. The couple express their love for each other. Their reverie is smashed when the bad guys, led by Telramund, who had been defeated by Lohengrin, rush in to attack the hero. A violent clash ensues and Telramund is killed. Then, Lohengrin turns to his bride and asks her to follow him to the king, to whom he will reveal his identity. Then the scene changes. Sorry, no rape scene here.
The "Bridal Chorus" is the most popular wedding march there is. I have attended many weddings, and it was the bride’s choice in every ceremony, except one, which is another story altogether. While the music was not part of the wedding ceremony in its original context, it has been the number one choice of brides for many years, and remains so today.
I wondered how the story of Lohengrin and Elsa could have become so twisted as to lead to its current defamation, so I did a little research. I discovered that it is seldom played at Jewish weddings, as Wagner had a reputation for anti-semitism, and the Nazis held Wagner to be among Germany’s greatest composers. The piece is also disliked by some Lutheran pastors, but that dates back to a general bias against the theater before World War I, and for pagan themes in some of Wagner’s works. The Roman Catholic Church does not approve of its use because it is secular music, and as such, is considered inappropriate as a processional hymn to the altar.
If you are being married in a church, the music should always be discussed with the minister. There may be valid reasons not to include a particular piece, and you should consider those, but please don’t reject a musical piece, especially one as beautiful and traditional as the "Bridal Chorus" based on rumors.
Another very popular piece to accompany the bride as she "takes her walk" is Felix Mendelssohn’s "Wedding March," which he wrote for William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, however it is more commonly used as the recessional music when the bride and groom leave the church together as man and wife.