Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral from Lohengrin (arr. Jack Gale)

Every generation seems to need its larger-than-life superheroes. Wagner drew his from medieval German Romantic folklore. Lohengrin is a prime example, marking Wagner’s transition from his early operas to his epic “music dramas”, including the Ring, Tristan and Isolde, and Parsifal. So, what’s the story, and why is Elsa participating in a procession towards a cathedral?

Lohengrin, the mysterious knight (in shining armor), the Keeper of the Holy Grail, has come in disguise to Antwerp, Belgium, to rescue its inhabitants from barbaric invaders. He has arrived in a boat drawn by a swan. He discovers the beautiful Elsa who stands accused of murdering her brother. On the condition that she will never reveal his true identity to anyone, Lohengrin offers to marry her. Shortly after the marriage, Elsa’s curiosity about her husband gets the better of her, and Lohengrin’s identity is exposed. He kills his antagonists, summons the swan to return him to the Temple of the Holy Grail, and the swan turns into Elsa’s dead brother. As Lohengrin departs, Elsa, overcome by grief, expires. (And nobody lives happily ever after!)

Had Wagner lived in the 20th century, he would have no doubt become a filmmaker rivaling Cecil B. DeMille.

Now we know why Elsa is in a procession on her way to the cathedral: to marry the inscrutable Lohengrin. The music that follows this processional episode in the opera is the well-known Here Comes the Bride, known as the Bridal Chorus – not to be confused with Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from his A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

Jack Gale is a trombonist. For 15 years, he was a member of the renowned Manhattan Brass Quintet. He arranged many pieces for this ensemble including Elsa’s Procession. From 1990 to 1994, he was an arranger and a musician for Garrison Keillor’s American Radio Company on NPR. From Antwerp, Belgium to Lake Wobegon, that’s quite a trip (sic).