Tuesday 24 October 2017

Capturing the joy of a wedding day with organs and trumpets

Wedding music: Richard Wagner
Wedding music: Richard Wagner

George Hamilton

Circumstances lead me to crave your indulgence today. In particular, events yesterday in Co Cork, which mean that neither Emma Hamilton nor Aubrey Anderson are unrelated to me now. I've wedding music on the brain.

It's hardly surprising that the tunes played at marriage ceremonies are among the most popular, for they carry in them the feel-good factor that comes from the occasion. A celebration, or simply happy memories of one, make for the most pleasurable listening.

There's a host of wonderful music associated with weddings, from the 'Bridal Chorus' that features in Wagner's opera Lohengrin – the one we know as 'Here Comes The Bride' – to another wedding march, the piece by Mendelssohn that has that very title, part of the incidental music for Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Where the Wagner is used to introduce the bride, the Mendelssohn is more of a recessional, just like the marvellous organ music that Charles-Marie Widor composed.

The final movement of his organ symphony is as familiar as it is popular. Widor's 'Toccata' is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Trumpet music is right up there among the favourites for the big day, even if there isn't a trumpeter in sight. Thanks to the mechanics of the wind-driven keyboard, the organ can double as brass. A piece by the English baroque composer Jeremiah Clarke – 'The Prince of Denmark's March' – has become known as the 'Trumpet Voluntary', though that's simply a generic term for music of this type.

For years, it was assumed that this was the work of another English composer, Henry Purcell, but it turned out that it was Clarke who was behind it, and it's probable that another favourite piece of wedding music – the one we know simply as 'Purcell's Trumpet Tune' – also ended up being credited to the wrong man. Prolific he certainly was, but it seems it isn't Purcell's music that has graced so many marriage ceremonies.

Of course, a lot of what has become popular in the context wasn't written with weddings in mind at all. Handel's 'Largo', for instance, had its origins as a song in Xerxes, an opera that bombed. It was the King of Persia of the title singing of how much he was enjoying sitting out of the sun.

Something that was written with a wedding in mind, though you're unlikely to hear it at any ceremony, is a piece by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. 'Wedding Day at Troldhaugen' was written in fond memory of the night he celebrated the 25th anniversary of his marriage to Nina.

Troldhaugen (Troll's Hill, so named by his wife) was the house he built outside Bergen where he lived and worked.

Scored originally for the piano, Grieg subsequently expanded it and created a full orchestral version.

Now one of the collection known as his Lyric Pieces, it covers the arrival of the guests in happy mood, and a more reflective section – thoughts of what marriage is all about, perhaps.

The title may be a bit of a misnomer, but 'Wedding Day at Troldhaugen' is full of the joys of recollecting a happy day.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday.


Irish Independent

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