The Mendelssohn Wedding March for String Quartet

The Wedding March for String Quartet РIf you were to ask any professional wedding string quartet which were the four most frequently asked for pieces of music for a wedding ceremony, the answer would almost certainly be Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Clarke’s ‘Trumpet Voluntary’ (also known as ‘Prince of Denmark’s March’), Wagner’s ‘Bridal Chorus’ (from ‘Lohengrin’) and Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March’ (from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’). But they would also tell you that there is often a degree of confusion over the last two.

The ‘Bridal Chorus’ is often distinguished as it neatly fits the words ‘here comes the bride’ (even though these have nothing to do with Wagner’s libretto whatsoever!). Although the Mendelssohn piece is not usually sung to any particular words it is now almost an essential part of any church wedding. The Wagner piece has its rightful place as the processional (or entrance) music of the bridal party, whereas the Mendelssohn piece is usually performed as the recessional (or exit) of the married couple.

The use of Wagner’s ‘Bridal Chorus’ as an opening to wedding ceremonies is baffling, as in the original 1850 opera it is sung by the females of the wedding party after the ceremony itself. Not only that, but the wedding between the characters Elsa and Lohengrin is a disaster as Elsa doesn’t even know the name of the knight she is marrying, and before he gets a chance to tell her, he is attacked and kills a character called Telramund. So within minutes of marriage he has already committed murder!

The Mendelssohn ‘wedding March’ had a slightly happier inception, as it is one of the most popular pieces from the incidental music he wrote for Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in 1842. It gained huge appeal when Queen Victoria’s daughter (also called Victoria), The Princess Royal selected it in her wedding to Prince Frederick Wilhelm of Prussia in 1858. The princess had known Mendelssohn personally, being privy to the great composer’s keyboard displays when he visited England.

So there you have a brief history of two wedding marches, which despite their origins are destined to be played as the mainstay of the wedding string quartet repertoire for many years to come.

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