Danish Military Music

Military music originally was used for signaling. The Army needed means of communication, whereby commands could be conveyed loudly and explicitly to the troops in the field. The Infantry used fifes and drums. The Cavalry (which was considered more distinguished) had trumpets and kettledrums. Later, the Infantry adopted the bugle and it was often boys of 14 and 15 years old that had the dangerous task of being field buglers.

However, another use of the fifes, drums, trumpets and kettledrums arose through the need for ceremonial music. The music had an exhilarating effect on the soldiers. Military parades and other pageantry gained considerably with extra pomp and colour when the music sounded. During the 1700’s an old folk music instrument, the Shawm (later replaced by the Oboe) was adopted. Now “real” melodies could be played, not just signals and fanfares. It was also discovered that it was possible, through holes and keys, and later after valves had been invented, to produce chromatic music (that is tones other than the so-called natural tones) on trumpets as well.

At that time Europe – more or less involuntarily – got acquainted with the janissary bands with their large array of rattles, cymbals, tambourines and giant drums of the Turkish army. Towards the end of the 1700’s these instruments (oboes, clarinets, trumpets, trombones, tubas, drums and the Turkish music) combined into what we today know as the military band.

Until in the middle of the1800’s, Denmark followed the same evolution as the rest of Europe. Regiments competed in having as large, skilled and colourful bands as possible. Often the officers of the regiments paid out of their own pockets to the band. 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 battalion 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. Then once again in the years after 1970 cost-cutting reared its ugly head. The result? Besides the full military band of the Royal Life Guards, Denmark has only two regimental brass bands left, both in Jutland.


The original 8th Regimental Band

Established in the middle of the 1800’s the band of the 8th Infantry Regiment was one of the bands with pure brass and percussion. It was garrisoned in Aarhus, Jutland. Around 1860, the Band was lead by Bandmaster Collard. After 1878 Bandmaster Julius Bergmann was at the helm. In 1900, Ludvig Marguard Rasmussen (he later changed his name to Ludvig Markwarth) took over the baton. Bergmann and Markwarth were both brilliant musicians and bandmasters and the 8th Regimental Band gained fame as one of the best in Denmark.

In 1913 there was increasing nervousness in Denmark over the political tensions in Europe and the Government decided to draw some regiments closer to the capital, Copenhagen. The 8th Regiment was transferred from Aarhus to Roskilde and the 7th Regiment was transferred from Fredericia to Slagelse. Strangely enough the two bands “changed regiment” during this relocation. (The 8th Regimental Band from Aarhus became the 7th Regimental Band in Slagelse. The 7th Regimental Band from Fredericia, under bandmaster Carl Schwartz, became the 8th Regimental Band, Roskilde.) The reason for the swap is unknown today.

The 8th Regimental Band rapidly achieved success in Roskilde. Naturally they played at military functions – parades through the town and concerts at superior officers’ residences. Besides their military duties the bandmasters and their bands were allowed, in uniform, to perform at private arrangements. The band concerts at “Trægaarden”, a private restaurant, pulled large audiences. The concerts at the town square and in the park were equally highly popular.

The 8th Regimental Band was a great asset to the Regiment and its garrison, the citizens of Roskilde, until 1932. Then the Band, along with the rest of the Danish military music establishment, was dissolved, never to come back.

but …


The present 8th Regimental Band

The 8th Regimental Band in fact did reappear. In the spring of 1986, nine musicians convened under the name of Roskilde Hornorkester (Roskilde Brass Band) to play music from old books of music which some of the musicians had inherited from musicians of the former 8th Regimental Band. A conductor (Robert Svanesøe, formerly music director of the Royal Life Guards) was engaged and the number of musicians increased to the number of today: 19 musicians, a bandmaster and a drum major matching the old danish regimental band instrumentation of 1880.

In May 1988 the Band (who till then only had performed in civilian clothes) gave a concert in the Danish Army Museum for the first time under the name of “The 8th Regimental Band” On that occasion the Band was dressed (out of the uniform collection of the Museum) in the infantry uniform, model 1848.

The 8th Regimental Band is still a volunteer ensemble of professional and semi-professional musicians but functions as the Copenhagen Citadel’s Band. The Band also takes pleasure in performing outside its “garrison,” e.g. by playing summer concerts at the Mansion Garden in their old hometown of Roskilde. The Band has also appeared in Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, Belgium, Austria and France and has contributed to several film and television programs. Since 2006 the band has participated several times in the german “Bundesmusikparade” the largest touring tattoo in Europe. In April 2006 the band was invited by EU to Strasbourg and made a splendid “springconcert” at the “Pavillon Josephine” with the comrades from the military band “Fanfare de 1’er Régiment de Tirailleurs”. Also the Band has participated in ‘Luxembourg Tattoo’ and the ‘Festival Musique Militaire’ in Mons, Belgium.

The Band is structured as a typical regimental band from the period 1880 – 1932. The music chosen is mainly of that time, when a concert on the bandstand offered marches, overtures, waltzes, classical transcriptions as well as arrangements of the then contemporary popular music. Today’s Band is dressed in the Danish infantry uniform 1880 – dark blue tunic with red shoulder boards (for musicians) and a kepi with red plume.

On this website you will find a photo gallery, articles, reviews, a concert schedule, MP3 files to download, etc. – unfortunately only in Danish.