The bridal chorus melody from Lohengrin (1850) is probably ( and sadly) the most widely recognised of all Wagner’s music. But it was not the composer’s intention that it be associated with a bride’s arrival at her wedding. In the opera, the chorus is sung after the wedding. It has nothing to do with the religious ritual of marriage, but rather its physical consummation: the ladies-in-waiting sing the chorus as they lead the now-married bride to the honeymoon suite, where her new husband awaits her.
Their words (‘Treulich geftihrt ziehet dahin, wo euch der Segen der Liebe bewahr’) hint at joys to come.
The music stayed safely within its opera until Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Victoria married a Prussian prince in 1858. She used the Wagner music (instrumental only) during the ceremony,initiating a trend that spread through the entire English-speaking world and still survives.
In 1881 the New York-published Franklin Square Song Collection presented a version of English words:
Guided by us, thrice happy pair
Enter this doorway, ’tis love that unites.
Then in 1912 The Victor Book of the Opera offered this translation:
Faithful and true, we lead thee forth
Where love triumphant shall crown thee with joy.
Those versions stick religiously to Wagner’s words – not a sign of ‘Here Comes the Bride.’
The film industry was still in its infancy at the time, but nevertheless a great number were being made. One particularly prolific writer of film scenarios and scripts was Shannon Fife. Between 1912 and 1929 Fife wrote 83 movies, and it was she who penned the title of a 1915 movie and with the sound of Wagner spinning in his grave, came up with Here Comes the Bride. The film was of course silent, so no song lyrics were required- just the evocative title.
Shannon Fife’s title almost instantly became the point of reference for Wagner’s melody, and it was suddenly open season. Here Comes the Bride cropped up as the title for a Broadway play, a musical, and several more films. At least four other sets of lyrics to accompany Wagner’s tune arose, all competing in triteness:
Here comes the bride, friends by her side,
Wedding bells ring loud, the door opens wide
Here comes the bride, all dressed in white
Sweetly, serenely, in soft glowing light.