Why you do NOT want Wagner’s Bridal Chorus in your wedding

Today was “the Big Day” for Prince William and Kate Middleton.  With all the fanfare, the wedding was quite reserved and modest, and to my delight and surprise, Wagner was not to be heard at their wedding.  For the record, I love the music and operas of Wagner… but for weddings, Wagner, and especially the Bridal Chorus is just not appropriate and here’s why.

Most people know the Bridal Chorus as “Here Comes the Bride” (which is not the translation of the lyrics).  Of course, the boys on the elementary school playground have added “Here comes the bride… all fat and wide”.  This alone will deter most brides from choosing this song, knowing that is what nearly every male under 40 will be singing in his head.

The real reason why this song isn’t a good idea is because of the context of the song in the Opera Lohengrin.  You can read a more complete synopsis here, but here’s the quick version:
Act 1 – Germans and Hungarians are at war.  German King Henry’s young son, Duke Gottfried, is missing.   Gottfried’s guardian Telramund accuses Gottfried’s sister Elsa of murdering Gottfried and that he (Tel.) should be made Duke.  Elsa pleads her innocense, submits to God’s judgement and sort of “prays” for the champion knight of her dreams.  Enter this mysterious, nameless knight in shining armor (named Lohengrin, we find out later) riding on a boat pulled by a swan.  Lohengrin says he will defend Elsa’s honor on the condition she never asks him what his name is. Lohengrin defeats but does not kill Tel.  End scene.

Act 2 – Tel. and his wife, Ortrud (who is a witch), have now been banished.   Ort. plans to get Elsa to violate her promise.  Ort. prays to her pagan gods to trick Elsa and return the land to paganism.  Nameless knight named Lohengrin is declared to be the new Duke, but he declines the title.  Elsa, fearing nameless Lohengrin’s departure at any time (from Ort.’s deceptive suggestion) hooks up with Lohengrin and they plan to get married.  Tel. and Ort. try to disrupt the wedding by sneaking in and claiming Lohengrin’s victory was invalid because he did not reveal his name.  The King backs nameless knight named Lohengrin.  Tel and Ort are left standing outside the Church.  End Scene

Act 3 – The chorus begins the act by singing the Bridal Chorus, which sets up a great deal of irony as you will soon see.  Elsa and Lohengrin enter the Bridal chamber, they have just been married and are about to consummate their marriage when Elsa (nagged by Ort’s suggestion that she should know her husband’s name) asks nameless husband knight named Lohengrin his name.  At that moment Tel. enters the chamber and Lohengrin kills Tel.  Lohengrin who didn’t get to answer before being attacked, said he and Elsa will go to the King and he (Lohengrin) will reveal the mystery.  Lohengrin reveals his name and that he is a Knight of the Holy Grail and now must leave.  He says goodbye to Elsa whom he married and now is abandoning without having consummated his wedding, and begins to leave on the swan pulled boat.  Ort. enters and says that the swan is actually Elsa’s missing brother Gottfried.  Ort is accused of being a witch… because she is.  Lohengrin turns the swan into Gottfried.  A dove descends from heaven and pulls Lohengrin’s boat.  Elsa grief stricken from the loss of her husband drops dead.  End Scene and Cut.

See… the Bridal March, while part of a really cool opera is absolutely not the kind of song you want for your wedding… unless the message you want to send is one of marital infidelity, tragedy, and paganism… and if that’s the case… I’m sure there’s a nice secular wedding chapel that will accommodate you, because really, that’s just about the opposite of the message a Christian Wedding makes.

29 thoughts on “Why you do NOT want Wagner’s Bridal Chorus in your wedding

  1. That’s all interesting, but nevertheless, I am going to play this at my son-in-law’s sister’s wedding, because its just a great piece of music. Firstly, she’s not all fat and wide and I don’t care if some boys think of those words anyway. Secondly, despite the plot of his opera, I think that masterful piece of writing transcends any story line (in my humble opinion.)

  2. Feel free to do it… just don’t expect a Confessional Lutheran pastor… or most Catholic Priests (or Anglicans that have retained some semblance of discernment) to allow it. If you want a church wedding, well, then don’t be shocked when there are limits to what some will allow. Those of us who actually understand worship to be something sacred not profane don’t do Wagner operas, University fight songs, or a Sith Lord’s Imperial March… we might like it but they have their place… not in church.

    Oh… and all the groomsmen, and every man under 40 will be singing those words in their heads. Just sayin’…

  3. I’m 65 and just learned “fat and wide”, actually from this post. I always heard “Here comes the bride, all dressed in white.”

    Yes, I have heard the Aggie Fight Song used as a wedding recessional, and it was a Missouri Lutheran Church (I’m Missouri Synod). In Texas we take these things seriously. It was dramatic, the full powerful organ, the large ornate church all decorated, the congregation doing the Aggie salute… After all, most Lutheran churches allow the American flag, and singing the national anthem…

    The original German words to the music written by Wagner are very beautiful, look them up. The wedding belongs to the bride and groom. As a professional in the wedding business, I advise my brides to discuss their wants and dreams with their church early on. It is in the end their wedding. They belong to Christ, not to any particular pastor or church building.

  4. I take exception. I’m nearly 50 and those are the words that come to my mind. Just saying.
    Thanks for the synopsis.

  5. Well, I did say younger than 40.

    As to the Aggie fight song. Sorry, but that is completely inappropriate for Christian worship, as is the national anthem.

    But to the point, I do not deny the beauty of Wagner’s work. In fact, I love his operas. But the content and the story line that comes with the Bridal Chorus is inappropriate for Christian worship. I’m not alone on this, even Wikipedia mentions that LCMS Lutherans object to this at weddings, as does the FAQ page at LCMS.ORG (http://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=550). I would hope that as a wedding professional you would respect the directions given by the wedding officiant.

  6. Dear Pastor Lorfeld,

    I’m a church organist at a Church of England parish near Manchester. I totally respect your opinion and couldn’t agree more with what you said about putting music in its context as I often find this being the problem in a lot of occasions, Christian and non-Christian. But I just wanted to say that serious Anglican churches do still use Wagner’s Bridal Chorus as processionals. Not because Wagner’s libretto being ignored or the seriousness of music being looked down upon, but the fact that most people understand this music as a suitable wedding piece and experienced this music much more in weddings than in opera houses. I’m not saying that the (possible) ignorance of these people is our excuse, but that, to them, the very context of the piece is wedding, not opera, not Wagner, and definitely not what the opera tells. To me, they are those who eat everything, as described in Roman 14.

    Just an opinion.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Wilbur

  7. Pastor Lorfeld, excellent piece. Thanks. The way you addresses Albert Edgars’ concerns would have made Dr. Kurt Marquardt proud. He taught us, in Modern Apologetics to address one point at a time. What Mr. Edgar seems to misunderstand also is that it’s NOT the bride’s day, it’s NOT the groom’s day, it’s the Lord’s day (regardless of the day of the week). The wedding is to be fitting of any worship service in the Lord’s House. It is a service of the Word that happens to have a wedding as part of it. If the music is not fit for a Sunday morning Divine Service, then it is not fit for a wedding, regardless of the day of the week on which it is held. The focus of the wedding is Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, not the bride or groom and certainly not the Aggie fight song. Our congregational wedding policy clearly states these ideas, as well as the fact that the pastor has the final say in what takes place in the service. Anyway, enough sermonizing. Keep up the good work Pastor Lorfeld!

  8. Well I’m not a Lute, (RC actually), but I have to agree with our famous author Samuel Langhorn Clemans aka Mark Twain, that Wagner’s music isn’t as bad as it sounds

  9. Pastor, I must say I agree with you. Being raised a Lutheran in a small congregation, our new young pastor told me he would never allow “The Wedding March,” but never explained why. Having heard many operas from an opera loving 8th grade teacher, she interpreted every word, and I got it even then. Think it is highly overdone anyway, and a bit corny. There are many beautiful pieces of music that have much more meaning than the silly here comes the bride. We are more sophisticated than that nowadays, aren’t we? On your side with this one, altho I have not set foot in church in many years, it really is a ridiculous song when you think about it, religious beliefs or not. Hundred of other classical choices much more romantic and with much more meaning. Stand tough!!!

  10. This is to Rev. Michael Scudder. I can’t even say that I respect your opinion. This day is all about the bride and groom. If it wasn’t, there would be no wedding! I believe we are simply presenting each other to the Lord and saying this is who I choose and I am honoring the cross by fulfilling the vows of Holy Matremony in the eyes of our Lord and in the house of worship. And oh BTW! God knows the lyrics our hearts are singing NOT the translation of others. How dare you say it is not about me and my bride! Please keep those negative opinions to yourself! You would never be allowed to step foot near or around MY wedding!!!

  11. And what of Wagner’s anti-Semitism and revered status within Nazi culture?

    Lohengrin aside, who wants music from an anti-Semitic composer at such a sacred occasion that is about love?

    Just my $0.02.

  12. I’m a Roman Catholic from Central America and had no idea Wagner’s Nuptial March had practically been banned in Catholic Churches in the United States, until recently. This was the piece played when I got married 35 years ago and is still being played. We don’t relate it to the opera or the “Here comes the bride, big fat and wide” lyrics because we speak Spanish. For us, it’s just very traditional; as traditional as the Ave Maria or Panis Angelicus sung during the Mass. Does anyone know when and how it started to be played as the entrance piece at so many weddings?

  13. I’m not sure about the history of Wagner’s lyrics but the wedding march ‘Here Comes The Bride’ is a traditional Christian wedding hymn. Maybe people need to look further and find origins of things before accepting belatedly what’s said or written.

  14. This practice became popular with the wedding of Victoria, Princess Royal (Queen Victoria’s daughter) to Prince Frederick William of Prussia in 1858. As with almost all things Victorian (including the wedding of the Queen’s daughter) it was copied by many in the West.

    Unlike Ave Maria (which is based on the Gabriel’s greeting to Mary: “Ave gratia plena”) Wagner’s Bridal Chorus is entirely non-sacred. The Church makes a distinction between that which is sacred (Biblical texts, hymns, canticles, etc) and that which is not sacred, ie a college fight song or Wagner’s Bridal Chorus. The point of this article is really that a wedding in a church is a sacred service – that the union of man and woman that God makes would be blessed by the Word of God and prayer. Thus elements that are not sacred are not fitting for the service.

  15. Above is a brief history of Wagner’s Bridal Chorus. The one thing it absolutely is not is a traditional Christian wedding hymn. Just because some choose to use the Imperial March from Star Wars doesn’t make it a Christian wedding hymn or processional… same with Wagner.

  16. I believe the reason this is rejected by so many brides is due to its hackneyed overuse. I doubt many people at the ceremony know much about Wagner, Lohengrin or the opera’s plot.

    By the way, I learned it as ‘short, fat and wide” – and don’t forget ‘here comes the groom, skinny as a broom.’

  17. My friend recently had a Catholic wedding and the church refused to allow the Wedding March (and now I know why thanks to this site). However, they were fine with Canon in D by Pachelbel. Is that not a secular piece?

  18. Actually Pachelbel wrote Canon in D as a processional piece for Johann Christoph Bach’s wedding. As St. George’s Cathedral in Eisenach was, by then Lutheran, they likely followed the Lutheran practice for wedding by having the vows exchanged outside of the Church (fulfilling the legal side of marriage) and then having a processional for the rest of the Marriage Rite, which is wholly a Church thing. Great question though!

    BTW, if you do ever get a chance. There is a very nice Bach museum in Eisenach, Germany and St. George’s is absolutely beautiful.

  19. I have been a church organist for over 35 years. I tell brides who are planning their marriage that they can have any song they want. The way to get around it is you don’t list it in your program or on your outline you share with the priest or pastor. On the program, just list Processional March (no need to credit composers, as we do not do that with other songs in the ceremony). OR it is very customary to have two pieces of music for the weeding processional: one while the bridal party comes in, followed by a brief pause, and then a louder, grander piece of music for the bride’s entrance. If the priest or pastor “demands” to have the name of the music you are using, just submit the first song (which is usually the “Cannon in D” by Pacabell or “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Bach). Just don’t list or mention that you also want “Bridal Chorus” — just have the organist play it. In all of my years as a church organist, in both Catholic churches and other denominations, I have never yet had a priest or pastor stand up and stop a wedding ceremony because of the music. There is no priest or pastor on earth (no matter how strict or “traditional” they may be) who will ever say “stop the music! that song is forbidden!” If they did they would be a complete ass and everyone would be like “who cares about the music?” Besides, no one remembers the music anyway. They are watching the bride, they are looking at the dresses, they are crying, smiling (or maybe even bored) — and after the ceremony they may have an impression of whether or not the organist or the singer was good or bad, but they don’t remember the music. No one at your wedding reception is going to say “wow that song you marched into represents pagan ideals and values and is from one of Adolph Hitler’s favorite operas.” No one cares.

    My advice applies to any song you want at your wedding ceremony. They say you can’t do contemporary music or your favorite ballad or country music song that is meaningful to you and the person you committed to spending the rest of your life with? HOGWASH. Do it anyway. Just don’t list it in the program and don’t include it on the list of songs you submit for “approval.” If they give you a list of pre-approved music and tell you that you can only pick music from this list, IGNORE it. I tell couples they can have any song they want. The minister is not going to stop the ceremony or refuse to sign the marriage license if your organist and vocalist perform selections that are not from the approved list of music. THIS IS YOUR SPECIAL DAY. Do the music that you want, and include the songs that are meaningful to you. I had a couple leave the church to “The Second Week of Deer Camp” by Da Yoopers. That’s what they wanted. The program just listed it as “Recessional” ….

    By the way, this also applies to funerals and memorial services. It is much more important to have music that is meaningful than it is to have music that is “approved” or even music that is “churchy” — there are enough prayers and blessing and religion during wedding ceremonies and funerals. Its perfectly fine if the music is not liturgical or from the church hymnal. DO WHAT YOU WANT and select music that is MEANINGFUL to you and your family.

  20. Sounds like a great way to NEVER be allowed to touch the organ of that church ever again. Seriously, this is one of the most unprofessional, dishonest, and stupid things I have ever heard from a professional church musician.

    Guess what. As the pastor, I am the celebrant. A wedding, a funeral… they aren’t about you. They aren’t about the pastor. They aren’t about the deceased or the couple. They are about Jesus. If you want a funeral or a wedding that has Christ taken out… then the Church is not a place for it. This isn’t Burger King… you can’t have it your way.

    Oh, and should a Church musician pull this kind of crap. I would stop the service, have him or her removed for violating our wedding policy.

  21. Yes, and the name of that deceitful organist should be circulated to other congregations in the area to be marked and avoided. I don’t care if you’re the organist, music director, funeral director, wedding planner, usher, mother of the bride, whatever… the pastor is in charge of the conduct of the service. If you cannot deal with that then have your wedding somewhere else.

  22. This is absolutely ridiculous! The song in itself is an actual wedding march and the lyrics couldn’t be more perfect for a wedding.

    “Treulich geführt ziehet dahin,
    wo euch der Segen der Liebe bewahr’!”
    (Be faithfully lead to where the blessing of love shall preserve you)

    The whole song talks about blessings, love, beauty and happiness. It even praises God! Read the English translation!
    What is it with pastors and churches that just try to twist everything, interpreting it in a negative way? Is that what Jesus would have done? Oh no! You can’t play that song here… I doubt it. He would be very disappointed.
    The remainder of the plot of the opera is unimportant.
    Christianity itself has not had the smoothest past, shall we bring it up? Do we condemn Christianity because of what has been done in the name of it? By your logic we should.
    I, on the other hand, rather adopt the good of it, the good of music, the good of the world, of life, the good of anything in anything. The whole world is a balance between good and evil. If we fish out the good and ignore the evil, the world would be a better place, but what you’re doing is burning the whole thing. With the little bit of good in it too.
    I think a pastor and a church should be the prime example of open mindedness and tolerance. If you can’t do it, why should we?

  23. Context, context, context! The lyrics are satirical because of the very thing that is happening. By the way, when eight women sing, to a different melody, “Wie Gott euch selig weihte, zu Freude weihn euch wir. In Liebesglücks Geleite denkt lang’ der Stunde hier!” The reference for “Gott” is not the Holy and Blessed Trinity who alone is God, but a pagan and false deity.

    As to open mindedness. Sorry, but that is not really a Christian Virtue. In fact, it’s really quite Satanic. What would Jesus do? Well, since making a whip and clearing the temple was something that He actually did, I think cleansing our worship in a likewise manner is not out of the question. I actually think what the world needs is more closeminded people who actually believe there is such a thing as truth. This post-modern appeal to tolerance is a passing fad that I don’t think will catch on.

    Finally, the world is not a balance of good and evil. Again, this is not a Christian idea whatsoever. Read the Church Fathers against Marcionism, Manichaeism, Valentianism, and Catharism, the whole point is that Christ is victor over that which is evil.

  24. Well, forgive me for being blunt. Using Wagner’s “wedding” march screams cultural ignorance, unless all your guests know you tend toward the Pagan, Norse, or neo-Nazi end of things, plus plan on retaining your dark sense of humor through your marriage.

    Wagner himself didn’t acknowledge this particular tune to be his quality work; if the word had existed, “snarky” probably would have been one he used. He was often bitter, and had an incredibly strange take on the world.

    Really, there aren’t only Christian reasons you’d want to avoid this.

    If you used it, consider it a bold tribute to growth and understanding since your wedding, regarding the world around you and the infinitude embodied in your spouse.

  25. Thank you pastor for your continued faithfulness in regards to keeping Christ in the wedding Worship Service. I have also heard this song called the “march of the whores”. You are right on so many issues that have been addressed. Culture has so influenced the church today instead of the church influencing the culture. Hearing some of the comments reminds me of the lack of respect in regards to Christian worship and the pastor. The worship service (including weddings) belongs to the church and not to the couple. If people want a bride and groom centered ceremony they are free to do so outside the church but in church it is Christ where the emphasis needs to be found.

    The thought of an organist going behind the back of the pastor, or simply being dishonest, is the way the world works but should not be found in the Church of Christ.

    I would love to respond to each thing that has been said but you have done a good job pastor in your responses. Reading through all of this reminds me of how the many people have no understanding of the Office of the Holy Ministry or of worship and have no desire to understand.

  26. I just stumbled upon this piece while researching my discourse with a friend, and I could not agree more with you, Pastor. Years ago I also convinced my (now ex-) wife not to include Wagner’s piece in our wedding for the same basic reasons, although you have broadened the details of my opinion with your article and responses. Thank you.

    I myself am a non-believer (I do not call myself an atheist, as it implies that I condemn or oppose faith, which I don’t), and even at that, I find the Bridal March completely inappropriate for a non-Christian ceremony, much less a Christian wedding!

    Thanks again for this informative “ammunition” for my debate.

  27. As a Confessing Lutheran I truly appreciate your stand! I pray you are right in that tolerance is a passing fad and will be short lived. It has done tremendous damage to the moral fiber of this country and will be extremely difficult to correct. It is, however, ironic that all those who demand tolerance from Christians are the last to be tolerant of our views. If you aren’t aware of it, the National Christian Apologetics Conference is in Charlotte, NC, every October and is an inspiration. God bless you and your service.

  28. Finally choose Pachelbel Canon in D :)
    Nice website and comments <3

    Thank you Pastor Matthew Lorfeld for the explanation.

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