Given the inseparable links between music and the British Monarchy, it naturally follows that the music chosen for royal weddings reflected both the importance of the occasion as well as the personal taste of the monarch. Whether it was the splendour of Handel’s marriage anthem ‘Sing unto God’ for the wedding of Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1736 or the Chorale composed by Prince Albert, which was incorporated into the wedding ceremony of another Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII on his marriage to Princess Alexandra of Denmark at St. George’s Chapel, in 1863.
Five of Queen Victoria’s children would marry at St. George’s Chapel, and each time, the music that was selected had heavy overtones of meaning for them by then, widowed Queen. Significantly, the marriage of her eldest daughter, The Princess Royal, celebrated at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace in 1858, was the only one of the marriages of their nine children, which Prince Albert attended. Music then, like most things, became a way of including the Prince Consort, just as his bust was central to photographs of the Royal Family made after Prince Albert’s death; his taste was adhered to, despite the fact that he was absent. Prince Albert’s body had temporarily been interred in the Albert Memorial Chapel at St. George’s Chapel, until the completion of the Royal Mausoleum at nearby Frogmore.
The Princess Royal’s wedding featured various marches with drums and trumpets as befitted the usual flourish that attended royal processional entrances. Importantly, the Princess Royal and her bridegroom, Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, left the Chapel Royal to Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, setting something of a royal paradigm for future such occasions. The German composer was of course, greatly admired by Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort and made several notable visits to Buckingham Palace.
There is no specific mention of music at the wedding of the Queen’s daughter, Princess Alice, to Prince Louis of Hesse in 1862, which took place in the Dining Room at Osborne House in front of a makeshift altar. There were two services for the wedding of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, whose wedding to the imperial Russian Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna was celebrated in St. Petersburg, an Anglican and a Russian.
‘The Marriage of the Prince of Wales, 10 March 1863’, in a painting by William Powell Frith (William Powell Frith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When it came to the wedding of the Prince of Wales a year later – the first wedding to be celebrated at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor – the music would have similar, more poignant meaning. Queen Victoria looked down upon the marriage ceremony from the Royal Closet, to the left of the altar, draped in black – in stark contrast to the white satin court wedding dress worn by her daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra, and was “profoundly melancholy”. The Queen was understandably distressed by the Chorale, which was a sad substitute for the presence of the dead Prince Albert, who had died a little over a year previously. The beautiful Chorale, composed by the Prince was sung as the couple approached the altar; a copy of it is preserved in the official marriage ceremony, bound in red velvet, in the Royal Collection. In contrast to his sister, the Princess Royal, the Prince of Wales walked out to Beethoven’s Hallelujah Chorus from the Mount of Olives.
The Windsor wedding of the Queen’s third daughter, Princess Helena to Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein on 5 July 1866, was conducted not in St. George’s Chapel but in the Private Chapel at Windsor Castle; for this Handel’s March from ‘Scipio’ was chosen.
Princess Louise, who married the Marquess of Lorne and future 9th Duke of Argyll on 21 March 1871, featured the march from ‘Athalie’ on the organ and the favoured Beethoven Hallelujah Chorus, with Handel’s Occasional Overture.
Prince Arthur married Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia at St. George’s Chapel on 13 March 1879; again the Hallelujah Chorus is referred to, although we must assume it is the familiar one by Beethoven as opposed to the better known one by Handel; Handel’s Occasional Overture also featured, whilst the Wedding March by Mendelssohn was played to conclude the wedding ceremony. At Prince Leopold’s wedding – the Queen’s youngest son – to Princess Helen of Waldeck-Pyrmont on 27 April 1882, the preferred pieces of the Hallelujah Chorus and the Mendelssohn Wedding March were again selected.
For the last of the Queen’s children, Princess Beatrice, whose wedding to Prince Henry of Battenberg was celebrated at St Mildred’s Church, Whippingham on the Isle of Wight on 23 July 1885, the ‘Brant Chor’ from Wagner’s Lohengrin was played (the Princess of Wales teasingly referred to Prince Henry as ‘Beatrice’s Lohengrin’) as well as Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise, followed by the now popular, Wedding March.
Princess Frederica of Hanover’s wedding to Von Pawel-Rammingen was celebrated at St. George’s Chapel on 24 April 1880; no detail of the music is mentioned, however. By contrast, the marriage of Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein to Prince Aribert of Anhalt, which was performed in St. George’s Chapel on 6 July 1891, was celebrated with a hymn written by the Bishop of Ripon, the Queen’s chaplain, to music composed by Dr Parratt.
It seems then, that the pattern of Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Handel may merely have been reserved for the Queen’s children. Perhaps significantly, there is no description of the music played for the Queen’s own wedding to Prince Albert on 10 February 1840, other than that the organ of the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace played and trumpets sounded on her arrival. Queen Victoria was by her own admission, not the great admirer of Handel that her grandfather, George III had been, preferring the more contemporary music of her time, such as Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini: “I am a terribly modern person”. (Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria: A Personal History, Pg 43, 2000).
Music then, would take on a greater personal significance in her family, much later.