Many of us make lists of the music we want to play at our wedding reception, but we may not realise the true storytelling power of wedding ceremony music. To most of us, hearing strains of some of these songs puts us immediately in mind of nuptials. Few would deny that music plays an important part in every wedding, whether it is religious or civil. No matter whether traditional or modern, beautifully chosen music adds to the atmosphere and character of every wedding ceremony.
A wedding march is a style of music played before, during or after a wedding ceremony. It can act as a cue for each stage of the ceremony, from bridal procession to recessional fanfare. These songs are often intrinsically linked to the mood and emotion of the day. You can play a pre-recorded version, but for the songs below we guarantee that live wedding musicians can play them.
Some of these songs are so closely linked to weddings that their original meanings may be lost. Learn a bit about each of the wedding marches below, and listen to the clips to decide which ones you want at your wedding.
5. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – Bach
A wedding is a happy affair, and this piece by Bach has an upbeat and joyous string section. Actually, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” is not a march at all. Instead, it is a German chorale arrangement from the cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben. Nevertheless, this is a very popular choice to play during the signing of the marriage register. In this case, it is often performed quite slowly and reverentially at wedding ceremonies – which is probably the direct opposite to the way Bach intended it to be played!
The lyrics to the English version of the song were reportedly written by Robert Bridges. However, the original words came from a hymn written by Martin Janus, and work with the lively nature of the German version.
You must remember that you may not have any religious significance at a civil wedding (Jesu means Jesus). However, it would be a great choice for a church wedding, especially with a live choir performing it.
4. Ode to Joy – Beethoven
The triumphant finale to Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” is one of the best known themes of the Western Classical repertoire. It even became the Anthem of Europe, adopted by the Council of Europe and the European Union. The final movement is the one often played at weddings, known as “Ode to Joy”.
Beethoven named this section after an ode written by poet Friedrich Schiller. The words come in right at the end, spoken in German, and adapted from Schiller’s poem by Beethoven himself. He wrote the line “Freude!” (meaning joy) as an exaltation.
The piece is popular for either the procession or recession of a wedding; in other words, for the approach of the bride or for the couple leaving the venue. Because of its great length, the song is often cut short for use in a wedding ceremony. Even so, the tune is unmistakable.
3. Canon in D Major – Pachelbel
Composed by Pachelbel around 1700, this piece actually remained forgotten for two centuries. It was only rediscovered and published fairly recently, in 1919, and has since enjoyed a meteoric rise to popularity. It was even remixed as music for several songs, including “Graduation (Friends Forever)” and “Christmas Canon”.
Another popular choice for the procession of the bride, “Canon in D” presents a short theme followed by a number of variations. This offers many alternative finishing points and thus of flexible duration. For this reason, it is often played as interlude music while the couple sign the marriage register.
If you want to play the song later in the day, perhaps you can arrange a ceilidh and perform the traditional gigue that went alongside the song. This is a lively Baroque dance, similar to an Irish jig, which could be great fun at your reception.
This will certainly be a beautiful song to play if you have a pianist and a cellist, or a string quartet. It is a type of song that expresses great emotion and therefore you will remember your wedding day every time you hear the song played afterwards.
2. Wedding March – Mendelssohn
Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” is another great triumphal march suitable for the recession back down the aisle of the bride and groom, as it begins with a joyful fanfare acting as the signal for everyone to stand up and congratulate the happy couple.
Felix Mendelssohn wrote music based on Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream twice in his life. This, his second, he wrote in 1842 and is now commonly used as a recessional. In other words, it is a great song to send the bride and groom back down the aisle together after tying the knot.
The form is called a rondo, meaning that it can be repeated until all of your guests have left the venue. It is also written in sections so you can cut it shorter if needs be. One famous bride to use this piece of music was Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, at her wedding to Prince Frederick William of Prussia. Since then, it has become a staple in the wedding songbook.
1. Bridal Chorus – Wagner
Finally, in our opinion the most popular wedding march is Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus”. Often called “Here Comes the Bride”, it is no surprise that so many brides request this song as the walk down the aisle. In fact, the often quoted lyrics don’t belong to the song at all!
The “Bridal Chorus” comes from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin and is actually sung to the bride after her wedding ceremony. Although originally in German, the first lyrics roughly translate as, “Faithfully guided, draw near / to where the blessing of love shall preserve you.” Of course, this is very different from the song’s supposed meaning today!
Similarly to the “Wedding March”, this piece of music was also used at the wedding of Victoria, Princess Royal. Nowadays, it is frequently used in media such as television and film, and as such it has become a wedding staple. After a very brief fanfare introduction, the principal theme is relatively short, which fits well with most civil ceremony venues.
Of course, while we have found the five most popular, these are not the only options. For more inspiration, consider what other couples have used, for example at royal weddings. On the other hand, go for something completely different. Have fun!