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  • William Cooper

Top 20 Traditional Wedding Songs

Updated: Sep 22

My recommendations for your traditional wedding ceremony.

Best in Brass Quintet

Planning a traditional wedding? You probably want to consider popular classical and baroque standards for your traditional wedding ceremony music. These 20 songs are tried and true. They have stood the test of time, and with performances by the right classical musicians will be beautiful additions to your wedding day. Whether you are getting married outdoors or in a church cathedral, classical music played by a string quartet, harp, brass ensemble, or a wedding orchestra is sure to set the tone you have in mind for your ceremony. Without further ado, here's my list of the Top 20 Classical Wedding Songs*:


No. 1 - Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel

This is one of the most popular pieces of music of all time. It is hard to find someone who has never heard Canon in D or doesn't recognize it when they hear it. Did you know that the bass line and melody have heavily influenced the songs of many popular artists? Some examples include Green Day's, "Basket Case", which uses the same exact bass line, and Maroon 5's "Memories", which is even more blatant in its use of not only the bass line but also the melody. I could go on, but that's probably a topic for another entire article. Anyway... Maroon 5 got something right... if you want to make beautiful memories on your wedding day, Pachelbel's Canon is a tested and proven choice for any moment in your wedding ceremony.



No. 2 - Trumpet Voluntary by Jeremiah Clarke

Most of us know this tune as Trumpet Voluntary, but it can get a little confusing... Its real title is "The Prince of Denmark's March" and though historians have corrected the error, sometimes it is still attributed to a different composer, Henry Purcell. To make matters even more confusing, there is not just one "Trumpet Voluntary". A voluntary is a musical composition, usually for the organ, that includes many flourishes and fanfares in the style of the English Baroque Era.


None of that really matters when it comes to your wedding ceremony music except that you know to tell your musicians you want them to play Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary instead of, say, Stanley's Trumpet Voluntary or Purcell's Trumpet Tune. What really does matter is that you like the music and the mood it sets. Jeremiah Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary is an excellent choice for brides who want to feel like royalty when walking down the aisle or exiting the church. After all, "Prince" is in the title and it has been performed at royal weddings such as Princess Diana's in 1981.


No. 3 - Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn

Based on the title, its popularity, and its familiarity, you already know this one is a great fit for the Recessional (the wedding party's exit music). "Wedding March" is the most popular selection from Mendelssohn's suite of incidental music to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, largely due to its popular association with wedding ceremonies. Not to be confused with Wagner's "Bridal Chorus" (more on that soon...), this is a classic choice to set a regal tone for your wedding.


No. 4 - Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring by J.S. Bach

If you are dead set on a traditional/classical string music wedding, I highly advise that you don't omit the most influential composer in the history of Western music, Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach is my all-time favorite composer, and his music has stood the test of time. It works well with any combination and type of instruments, it can be used at virtually any moment in your wedding ceremony, and it is simply beautiful. "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" was my self-proclaimed favorite piece of music when I was in middle school, and I am still not tired of it. It is an excellent choice for wedding music for strings, brass, harp, or organ. You can't go wrong with this one.


No. 5 - Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin by Richard Wagner

"Here comes the bride, all dressed in white!" I hate to break it to you, but those are not the real words to this song. In fact, the original lyrics are in German and from the libretto (opera lyrics) to Richard Wagner's opera, Lohengrin. The playful English words that many of us associate with this tune demonstrate, however, just how much this melody belongs in a traditional wedding ceremony. "Bridal Chorus" makes an excellent choice for the Bridal Processional (the bride's entrance music) paired with No. 3 on this list, Mendelssohn's "Wedding March", as the Recessional.


No. 6 - Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 by J.S. Bach

Also known as "Air in G" or "Air on the G String" from Suite in D, this well known work by Johann Sebastian Bach is a traditional wedding ceremony standard. I recommend it to be played during the Prelude before your ceremony begins to set the mood. A good performance of this piece will have your guests prepared for the beautiful moments to come. The steady pulse of the bass line beats like a heart with anticipation (played here by the cello) and pairs so nicely with the lovely melody in the violin. Compared to many of the more grandiose pieces on this list, it is on the quieter side and also makes a stunning choice for the bridal entrance at smaller weddings.


No. 7 - Ode to Joy by Ludwig von Beethoven

Weddings are joyful events, and this famous theme from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony will uplift everyone in attendance at your wedding. It is an ideal Postlude that will celebrate your big day and your new marriage with an appropriate, jubilant tone!


No. 8 - Wachet Auf by J.S. Bach

I first encountered this piece of music at an older cousin's wedding ceremony when I was eleven years old. The melody was played by an amazing solo trumpet player as the bride walked down the aisle. The church rang with gorgeous sounds that day, and the memory of this melody and the singing sonority of the trumpet have stayed with me ever since. This moment was influential in my choice to begin playing the trumpet soon after and it motivated me to practice diligently. I wanted to sound like the memory I still have of that beautiful wedding day! This piece is perfect for the Prelude or for special music during any traditional ceremony.


No. 9 - Joyful Overture by M.G.L. Grandjany

For more intimate ceremonies, nothing quite compares to the beauty and elegance of the harp. While Grandjany's "Joyful Overture" may not be first to mind when most people think of traditional wedding music, it is a piece I think you should consider. There is a calming beauty to its simplicity when played as a harp solo that is sure to bring a smile and a feeling of warmth to every guest at your wedding.


No. 10 - Hornpipe from Water Music by G.F. Handel

Another celebratory favorite, this piece is sometimes known as "A la Hornpipe". Some of you may know it as just "Water Music", but Water Music is actually a collection of many orchestral movements originally performed on the River Thames for King George I. Many weddings in Florida are near (or maybe even on!) the water. Where I live in Orlando, there are countless beautiful lakes and the Florida beaches are only a 1-2 hour drive away. If you are having a traditional wedding on or near water - especially if you live near Central Florida and can have the amazing musicians of Best in Brass - you absolutely must include some of the movements from Handel's famous Water Music Suites.


No. 11 - Sheep May Safely Graze by J.S. Bach

Calm, peaceful, and meditative are some words that aptly describe Bach's aria from Cantata, BWV 208 (another Bach on the list?! I told you he was the most influential composer in the history of Western music!). Originally in German, the translated lyrics for the original opera aria are as follows:


Sheep may safely graze and pasture

In a watchful Shepherd's sight.


Those who rule with wisdom guiding

Bring to hearts a peace abiding

Bless a land with joy made bright.


Bach has posthumously become the most famous church organist of all time, and the music he wrote was originally composed for the services at St. Thomas Church, a Lutheran church in Leipzig, Germany from 1723-1750 during his tenure as the music director. The works of Bach make excellent choices for Christian weddings that want to emphasize a sacredness to the ceremony. I'll say it again: Bach is my favorite composer, and you should consider his beautiful music for your wedding!


No. 12 - Meditation from Thais by Jules Massenet

Thais is an opera by the French Romantic Era composer, Jules Massenet. Perfect for a meditative (it's in the title, after all) Prelude, nothing beats a virtuoso solo violinist performing "Meditation". It works very well with harp, piano, or organ accompanying a soloist or with a a larger ensemble like a string quartet.


No. 13 - Rondeau from Symphonies des fanfares by Jean-Joseph Mouret

In popular culture, this one is known as the "Theme from Masterpiece Theater". The classic sound of the solo trumpet with orchestra has greeted American Anglophile audiences as they tune in to PBS for as long as I can remember (my family included), but the "Rondeau" by Mouret was composed in 1729, long before PBS or even television existed. The Rondeau is a movement from Mouret's Symphonies des fanfares for brass, strings, and timpani. Sure to impress with its fanfares and flashiness, it makes for an ideal recessional piece.


No. 14 - Ave Verum Corpus by W.A. Mozart

Written by Mozart to celebrate the Fest of Corpus Christi, Ave Verum Corpus is a famous Latin text from the church that celebrates the presence of the soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in the elements of the Eucharist. This piece specifically makes this list because many traditional church weddings in the Christian tradition celebrate the Eucharist or Holy Communion, and many couples and their families want to celebrate the sacredness of marriage in their ceremonies. If you want the music to match the liturgy of your service, you should consider special music that matches each moment of the service. If you are taking Communion during your wedding ceremony, consider this piece by Mozart as the special music for that moment in the ceremony.


No. 15 - Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by G.F. Handel

Your wedding day is your chance to be Queen or Princess for the day. What better way to make that statement than to have music written for a queen performed during your wedding ceremony? This piece comes from Handel's Solomon, based on the stories of King Solomon found in the Bible. I think you'd be making a wise choice if you had Arrival of the Queen of Sheba performed at your wedding.


No. 16 - La Réjouissance from Music for the Royal Fireworks G.F. Handel

Nothing says, "Celebration" like fireworks! Where I live in Orlando, Florida, there are fireworks somewhere around town almost every night. If you have ever been to Disney's Magic Kingdom, you know what I am talking about! Fireworks are for joyful moments, and the musical version of fireworks written for royalty? That sounds like a perfect fit for your wedding ceremony. Make a joyful statement that fits your traditional theme as you exit the ceremony to Handel's classic. La Réjouissance means "rejoicing", and whether performed by brass wedding musicians or string wedding musicians, you'll be leaving the ceremony on a high note! (Literally!)


No. 17 - Trumpet Tune by Henry Purcell

As a trumpet player, I am pretty biased in my affinity for the trumpet-titled works on this list, but I hope you agree that there is something truly special about the sound of a well played solo trumpet at a special event like a wedding ceremony. Purcell's Trumpet Tune works very well with brass quintet or as heard here, with string quartet and trumpet. Regal, elegant, joyful... this piece is perfect for a classical wedding and will leave you and your guests feeling uplifted as you celebrate a beautiful new marriage!


No. 18 - Pie Jesu from Requiem by Gabriel Faure

Another great selection for traditional Christian weddings is "Pie Jesu" from Faure's Requiem. For weddings that want to maintain a quiet, meditative solemnity, an instrumental arrangement of this piece sets the appropriate mood for the Prelude. If you prefer string wedding music to brass instruments, it is also beautifully played by experienced string musicians like the Best in Brass String Quartet.


No. 19 - Largo from Winter by Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi's The Four Seasons is some of the most iconic baroque/classical music out there. Another movement that could have made this list is Vivaldi's Spring. A string duo, trio, or quartet all make good choices for your wedding ceremony and for the performance of Vivaldi's Winter. If you live in Florida like me, you might appreciate a little bit of winter from time to time to cool things off, and this relaxing movement will set a peaceful mood for your wedding service.


No. 20 - Ave Maria by Franz Schubert

Not to be confused with the previously mentioned "Ave Verum Corpus" or the "Ave Maria" by Charles Gounod (though both of those also make excellent classical wedding music selections), Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria" is a beautiful musical version of a famous Latin prayer. For weddings that want to emphasize sacred music, this is a great choice for Prelude or special music.


Conclusion


There are lots of great choices out there for wedding music no matter what type of ceremony you are planning. If you are planning a traditional wedding ceremony, there is certainly more amazing music than just the options on this list. Just check out our repertoire list to see what I mean.


To recap, here's the list in pure list form for all you list lovers out there:


No. 1 - Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel

No. 2 - Trumpet Voluntary by Jeremiah Clarke

No. 3 - Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn

No. 4 - Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring by J.S. Bach

No. 5 - Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin by Richard Wagner

No. 6 - Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 by J.S. Bach

No. 7 - Ode to Joy by Ludwig von Beethoven

No. 8 - Wachet Auf by J.S. Bach

No. 9 - Joyful Overture by M.G.L. Grandjany

No. 10 - Hornpipe from Water Music by G.F. Handel

No. 11 - Sheep May Safely Graze by J.S. Bach

No. 12 - Meditation from Thais by Jules Massenet

No. 13 - Rondeau from Symphonies des fanfares by Jean-Joseph Mouret

No. 14 - Ave Verum Corpus by W.A. Mozart

No. 15 - Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by G.F. Handel

No. 16 - La Réjouissance from Music for the Royal Fireworks G.F. Handel

No. 17 - Trumpet Tune by Henry Purcell

No. 18 - Pie Jesu from Requiem by Gabriel Faure

No. 19 - Largo from Winter by Antonio Vivaldi

No. 20 - Ave Maria by Franz Schubert


Bonus - First Arabesque by Claude Debussy

I couldn't resist including the breathtaking playing by Haley Rhodeside for this last bonus pick on the list. This piece by French composer, Claude Debussy, was originally written for piano, but it works very well on the harp. Be warned, however, that it is a very difficult piece and should probably only be requested if your wedding musician is a virtuoso full-time professional musician up for playing it.


If you live in Orlando, Central Fl0rida, or the surrounding areas like Tampa, Daytona Beach, Melbourne, and Sarasota, consider hiring top professional musicians like Best in Brass for your wedding or special event. Best in Brass is Florida's Wedding & Event Orchestra, offering strings, brass, harp, and piano performed by many of the most talented and qualified musicians in the area. Consider Best in Brass for string wedding music, brass wedding music, harp wedding music, and for custom ensemble combinations of these classical musicians.


Find out more about the author of this article, William Cooper, at www.williamcoopertrumpet.com.


*As an experienced classical musician, I have to set the record straight that these are technically not all "songs" but some of them are "pieces". A song is music that is written for or uses the human voice as its primary medium of transmission, usually with lyrics set to the notes, but several of the examples above were written for instruments and are therefore pieces of music. I apologize to any of the hardcore music fans out there who thought this to themselves... Perhaps a more apt title for this article would have been The Top 20 Traditional Wedding Pieces.

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