With my own wedding approaching later this month, I join the ranks of summer brides with visions of flower arrangements dancing in my head. If there’s one aspect of the occasion that I took most seriously when I began planning the ceremony, it was definitely the music (naturally!). There are the traditional selections, of course: Wagner’s “Wedding March” from Lohengrin, Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, and who could forget Mendelssohn’s vivacious “Wedding March” theme from his incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, op. 61 (see this harp arrangement, as well!). Like many others out there, I wanted to modernize my ceremony with some more personal selections. This non-traditional approach is common practice in 2019; what may be surprising, however, is that a century ago, “modern” American brides were searching for new alternatives in wedding ceremony music – albeit for political reasons.
After World War I, anti-German sentiment was rampant in the United States; American schools ceased teaching German language classes, German Americans changed their names, and German business owners and prominent figures were subjected to surveillance and interrogations. Music directors were challenged to eliminate German programming in the concert hall, and – accordingly – American brides felt the heat in programming their wedding ceremonies, too. As explained in a Dec 1, 1918 article published in the San Francisco Chronicle: “No patriotic bride should have to listen to strains of Germanic origin…Away with Mr. Mendelssohn’s wedding march and the tum, tumty tum, tum, tumty tum of the ‘Lohengrin’ processional.” The article expands on the thought, asserting that German music is particularly unfit for the American soldier who has returned from overseas to marry his love.
With Wagner and Mendelssohn on the cutting room floor, Americans looked for new, “home team” options. Many American composers penned new marches for the occasion, among them composer/publisher E.T. Paull, who was known for his beautiful lithograph sheet music covers and whose “American Wedding March” cover deserves showcasing in this blog post (see above). Ultimately, there was only one American composer who excited the country at the mere mention of his penning a new piece: the great John Philip Sousa. The aforementioned San Francisco Chronicle article led with the headline: “Sousa Drops Martial for Marital Music,” announcing that The March King had composed a new “Wedding March.” The St. Louis Dispatch reported that before Sousa had published the final product, he had campaigned: “Don’t Propose until I compose!” The sheet music for Sousa’s new march was registered in October 1918, and includes the following note preceding the music:
In May 1918, The American Relief Legion…adopted a resolution requesting John Philip Sousa to write a Wedding March for our American brides and recommended that it be universally adopted by all Americans to whom it is respectfully dedicated.
Curious to hear the march? Take a listen via the Library’s National Jukebox here:
The piece received positive reviews as an addition to his march repertoire, though Americans clearly didn’t latch onto incorporating it into the wedding ceremony tradition. A century later, here’s to the summer brides looking for the perfect music selections that reflect them, their partner, and their special day. And remember, if you need help finding that special music or specific arrangement, our music reference librarians are here to help – email us via Ask a Librarian.