One of the oldest recordings of Danish military music. From the Ruben Collection (1890's).


muk_1730Music Corps of the Danish Royal Life Guards about 1730. The Lifeguard Music Corps is supposedly one of the oldest still operating military bands of its kind in the world, founded over 350 years ago in 1658 by King Frederik the III



00000033_4.jpg-beskåretThe Kingdom of Denmark has a long and proud tradition for military music. Fully comparable to any other European power usually considered when dealing with the subject.

The Danish repertoire dates to before 1500. The oldest known Danish marches dates from the 17th century (early 1600's).

Historically some of the best known Danish composers have contributed to the unique repertoire of Danish marches. With famous names like Hans Christian Lumbye and Carl Nielsen having even started their music careers in the Danish royal army.

Some of the oldest recordings of military music in Denmark (and indeed the world) are preserved in the form of wax cylinders dating from the late 1880's and early 1890's, known as the Ruben Collection (You can hear all the various examples of military music from the Ruben Collection here on our site).

Until in the middle of the 1800’s, Denmark followed the same evolution as the rest of Europe. Regiments competed in having as large, skilled and colourful a band as possible. Often the officers of the regiments paid out of their own pockets to the bands. In 1842, however, the Army was restructured. The regiments were replaced by battalions as the new tactical units, organized in four brigades. This meant a reorganization of the military music as well. The many large and colourful regimental bands disappeared and four brigade bands were established. They were each staffed with 27 musicians and were full military bands with woodwinds, brass and percussion.

The brigade bands were supplemented by 20 battalion bands. The Guards battalion band was staffed like the brigade bands but the infantry battalion bands had to make do with 17 musicians and only brass and percussion. The idea was to use the brigade bands in the garrisons whereas the brigade bands had to go to the front where they could “see the white in the eyes of the enemy!”.

Thus emerged the one and only unique Danish military music tradition, the pure brass band. It had as its only counterpart the field music of the American Civil War armies but only in Denmark has it survived. The two regimental bands left, outside of the Guards, still number 17 – 18 musicians and are pure brass and percussion. Musically, the small brass ensemble is of course the poor cousin of the full military band. However, it has given us a unique military music tradition with its own instrumentation, its own style of playing and its own distinct sound. (It should not be confused with the popular British brass bands because instrumentation and playing style differ considerably).

During the 1800’s the brigade bands disappeared and the battalion bands, in pairs, formed new regimental bands. With the exception of the Guards who retained their full military band, the instrumentation remained that of the battalion brass band.

The military band was always an easy victim of the cost-cutting axe. In 1909, the Danish government came close to abolishing all military music but it was saved at the last moment. In the ensuing period the bands came down in size to having only nine musicians, though they were subsequently increased slightly. Disaster struck in 1932. Despite massive protests all Danish military bands were dissolved, leaving only the band of the Guards untouched.

In 1940, large and skilled military bands came to Denmark, but they were German and highly unwelcome indeed. As a counterweight to the German musical presence, four Danish regimental bands were re-established with a fifth one added in 1953. But in 1970 the danish military music, outside the Royal Guards was reformed once again, and is regularly an issue in financial politics.

The state of the military music in Denmark is at present:

The Royal Lifegard Music-corps is, as the oldest of its kind in the world, well preserved as hitherto. It is a full harmony orchestra.

Outside the Royal Lifeguard Regiment there are two music-corps' in the Danish army: Prinsens Musikkorps (the Prince's Music-corps) and Slesvigske Musikkorps (the Music-corps of Slesvig). They both play in the Danish style, distinctively known for its lack of woodwind instruments, similar in some respects to the military music of the American civil war.

The Danish Navy has its own distinct and quite unique band in Søværnets Tamburkorps (The Fife and Drum Corps of the Navy). Despite its name a full harmony orchestra in the Danish tradition, with its unique sound and style.

The Gardehusarregiment (the Guard Husar Regiment) has a trumpeteer-corps in the classical style of horse ridden trumpet and kettledrum music of continental Europe.

The lifeguard also has its distinct Livgardens Tamburkorps (the Royal Lifeguard Fife and Drum Corps) in the classical fife and drum style which dates back to the 16th century's colorful mercenary armies and its destinct landsknecht music.

Outside the state there exists a well renowned and officially honored music-corps. Distinctively volunteer, the 8. Regiments Musikkorps (the 8th Regiment Music-corps) is not part of the armed forces of the Danish Defence Forces, it has although been given the distinction of "tradition-carrying institution" by the Danish army authorities. Its base is the Citadel of Copenhagen. It is a full army music-corps as known from the 1890's Denmark. It shares a common origin with IMMS Denmark, and its part in preserving and bringing to life the sounds of historical Danish military music cannot be underestimated.

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5skjoldThe Danish branch of the International Military Music Society was founded over 30 years ago, in 1981.

The purpose of the IMMS Denmark is to cultivate and research the unique history and style of Danish military music, and propagate the knowledge thereof.

The society deals with all aspects of military music in general and the Danish tradition in particular.

IMMS Denmarks membership consists of private individuals as well as orchestras and music-corps' (marching bands).

The society publishes the quarterly magazine "Reveille", with articles and other information relevant to the subject.

More information:
If You wish to contact us, please use the contact form here.

For more of the Danish military music of the the Ruben Collection, see here.

For more about the 8th Regiments Music Corps, look here.


Perhaps the worlds oldest outdoor filmshot with sound, featuring the Music Corps of the Danish Royal Guard marching through Copenhagen to Amalienborg Castle for the changing of the guards (March 1924).