Favorite Wedding Music: a brief history

We are all familiar with a number pieces popular for wedding ceremonies—but where did they come from? Below are the origins of some of the best known music chosen for wedding ceremonies.

Seating of the Mother’s

Ave Maria by Bach & Gounod

Bach wrote his Prelude No. 1 in C as a solo piece to perform on the clavier and almost 150 years later, Gounod used this music as a pre-written accompaniment to an improvisation with the text, “Ave Maria.” Today, it is a favorite at weddings to seat the family.

Ave Maria by Schubert

This is a popular choice for the seating of the bride & grooms parents, (now often extended to the entire immediate family). “Ave Maria,” meaning “Hail Mary” honors the virgin Mary and therefore motherhood and is often sung with the Latin text for the Catholic prayer, “Ave Maria.” Schubert’s piece was actually written as part of a song cycle of 7 songs about the exiled Lady of the Lake who has gone to live in the goblin cave!



Bridal Chorus by Wagner

This tune, written in 1850 and commonly called “Here Come’s the Bride,” was written for Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. The bridesmaids sing this melody as the bride, Elsa goes to the bridal suite. It became popular as the bridal processional when Princess Victoria married Prince Frederick William of Prussia in 1858. If only trend forecasters were that good!

Trumpet Voluntary by Clark

Trumpet Voluntary is sometimes called the Prince of Denmark’s March and was composed about 1700. A Trumpet Voluntary, was typically performed on an organ using the “trumpet stop.” Charles Prince of Wales & Lady Diana Spencer’s chose this tune for their wedding in 1981.

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring by Bach

This piece was originally intended as an accompaniment for a hymn. Bach used a melody written by violinist and composer Johann Schop and harmonized it. Since then, it has become an enduring wedding processional.

Canon in D by Pachelbel

This famous tune was written in the 1700s and largely forgotten until 1913 when it was re-discovered. Some historians believe it was written for Johann Christoph Bach’s wedding in 1694 and is still a beautiful choice for processionals.



Wedding March by Mendelssohn

Composed as part of the incidental music for Shakespere’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream and was used as a recessional for the first time in 1847 for the wedding of Doroty Carew and Tom Daniel at St. Peter’s Church in Tiverton England and became hugely popular when Prince Frederick William of Prussia’s and Victoria, The Princess Royal married in 1858.

Spring from Four Seasons – Vivaldi

This is from a series of 12 concertos and by far Vivaldi’s most popular music and some of the most loved music of the baroque era written in about 1720.

Ode to Joy – Beethoven

This the climactic moment in the final movement of his famous 9th Symphony composed in 1824 and is the anthem for the European Union. This piece is frequently used as a protest anthem and music for celebration!

Trumpet Tune – Clark

Often misattributed to Henry Purcell, Trumpet Tune was written for the semi-opera The Island Princess which was produced by Clark and Henry Purcell’s little brother Daniel Purcell in the baroque period.

Allegro Maestros from Water Music by Handel

Handel's patron, King George when he requested a concert on the River Thames & Handel supplied his famous Water Music Suite.

Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah

This is final movement of Handel’s oratorio, first performed in Dublin in 1742. This is a religious opera about Jesus Christ beginning with Nativity, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. This jubilant ending is an ever popular wedding recessional.

Tying the knot: she is 92 & he is 93

I played for an unforgettable wedding. The bride phoned me up about three weeks before the wedding, she found me on the web and wanted to know if I was free for her date. When I heard her voice, I first assumed she was kindly calling on behalf of her daughter. She said, "I'm 92 and I'm getting married, isn't that something?" She told me about her groom, and meeting him at the community where they live and shared her wedding plans. The gathering was to be small: close friends and family only with hors'devores, drinks and classical harp music. 

The weather was perfect, clear skies and even a bit warm for a winter day. I arrived about 45 minutes before the start of the prelude, unpacked my harp and set my case inside the caterers office across the hall. It wasn't long before I met the bride and groom. She walked in with a big smile and looked over the set-up, and went through the schedule of when her family/friends would arrive.  As most brides, she was joyful and bit nervous before the ceremony.

I met her grandsons when they arrived and she asked them how she looked, and wondered about her hair. She made a lovely bride and was a vision in pink! One grandson asked why she didn't wear white, to which she responded, "Well, I think I'm about 50 or 60 years too late for that!"

When her groom arrived, her eyes lit up and I shook hands with her husband to be. She adjusted his shirt collar before the wedding, and he asked flirtatiously, "Shouldn't you wait until after the wedding to adjust my shirt?"

I began playing prelude music when the first guests arrived, and the ceremony began shortly there after. I played "Canon in D" by Pachelbel to signal the start of the ceremony. Everyone sat down as they exchanged their vows. From where I sat, I could see the bride clearly. Her eyes moistened as he placed the gold ring on her finger, and they shared a kiss as soon as the officient declared them husband and wife (just before the famous words, " you may kiss the bride"). Her guests erupted with applause!

They began feasting and drinking, talking and laughing while I played. From my seat, I could tell they were a happy bunch! They cut the cake together and dessert was served. When her friends left, the bride invited me to join her family at their table. I enjoyed the rest of the evening with the bride-groom, her grandsons and her son. As all brides do, she showed off her ring, talked about the future and laughed.