The Royal Marches

A special musical tradition in Denmark is the royal marches, which means that certain pieces of music have been composed for the monarch or members of The Royal Family.

In the mid-1800s, a special tradition of music occurred in Denmark through the composition of personal marches for the Monarch and members of The Royal Family.

For centuries, military marches have been used to empower and encourage soldiers before battle. With a military band in front, it was also made sure that marching troops kept in step. This is significant for the marches because they accompany the Guards’ ceremonial duties at the royal palaces.

Over the years, the sounds of royal marches have accompanied the changing of the guard at the royal residence and at other major events in The Royal House . Also, the various marches have contributed to portray The Royal Family, as hidden references and greetings have been incorporated in the tunes.

Initially, the royal marches were gifts from the composers to the Monarch. However, in modern times the marches have been created in close cooperation with the relevant member of The Royal Family. The latest march was written for HRH Princess Benedikte in November 2017 and has not yet been recorded.

Scores and parts for all the marches can be downloaded free of charge from the homepage of the Band of The Royal Life Guards - “Den Kongelige Livgardes Musikkorps” 

March in honour of King Frederik VII 

Original name in Danish: “Kong Frederik den VII’s Honeur Marsch”

In 1861, H.C. Lumbye, the composer, gave a personal march to Frederik VII This was the first piece of music in a long tradition of composing military marches in honour of the Monarch of Denmark and other members of The Royal House. Frederik VII knew Lumbye and his music from the concert hall of the still existing Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, where the king often attended the concerts of the famous composer. The relation resulted in the composition of the “March in honour of King Frederik VII”. The march pleased the king, and consequently he ordered The Royal Life Guards to play the march at the changing of the guard ceremony at Amalienborg.

At this time, H.C. Lumby from the stage in Tivoli Concert Hall was the leading musical force in Denmark as Director of Music as well as a composer. At the age of 14, Lumbye was trained as a bugler in the local regimental band of Odense, Funen, and later he was employed as a trumpeter in The Royal Horse Guards in Copenhagen. This background in military music combined with the career as a composer of more than 700 polkas, waltzes and galops made it natural, that the first royal march of honour was influenced by all these different musical traditions.

The musical present from H.C. Lumbye to Frederik VII not only became the first royal march of honour in the history of Denmark, but also became the basis of a tradition of hiding small messages to the Monarch in the music. Thus, the “March in Honour of King Frederik VII” begins with an already known short piece of music introduced in 1808 as “Parade March”, later named “Honour March for Royal House and Flag” and “The Colour March”. Used as the latter at the changing of the guard for the Sovereign, it is played as a slow march. In the honour march of Frederik VII, the piece of music is a festive introduction to the march, and it was the use of this honour march that introduced the term royal march of honour – in Danish “Honnør”.

March in honour of King Christian IX 

Original name in Danish: “Kong Christian den IXdes Honneur Marsch”

In the year of destiny for the Danish Monarchy,1864, H.C. Lumbye composed his march for the new king, Christian IX. The “March in honour of King Christian IX” had its first performance on the Danish Constitution Day, 5 June, during the German-Danish War of 1864.

H.C. Lumby got acquainted with Christian IX as a Prince and serving officer in the Horse Guards where Lumbye as mentioned served as a trumpeter. His compositions for members of The Royal Family also included “Queen Louise Waltz”, “Princess Thyra Polka” and “Dagmar Polka”. The latter was composed in 1866 on the occasion of Christian IX’s and Queen Louise’s daughter Princess Dagmar’s wedding to the later Tsar Alexander III of Russia.

Also in this march, Lumbye’s melodies are clearly influenced by the lightness of dance music, a trait that can also be traced as a distinctive feature in several of the other royal marches.

March in honour of King Frederik VIII 

Original name in Danish: “Kong Frederik d. VIII’s Honnørmarsch”

Already in 1857, the conductor and composer Christian Florus Balduin Dahl composed a march for Prince Frederik, the later Frederik VIII. Thus, the march was made before H.C. Lumbye composed the marches for Frederik VII and Christian IX.

Musically, the “March in Honour of King Frederik VIII” has the same lightness as Lumbye’s works, and like Lumbye, Balduin Dahl had a background as a musician in various military bands, including The Royal Life Guards of Foot. Dahl also took over as Director of Music in Tivoli when Lumby resigned in 1873.

Balduin Dahl did not live long enough to experience that his march for Prince Frederik was elevated to be the honour march of the king, as Dahl died 22 years before Frederik ascended to the Danish throne in 1906. However, this popular march had been played by military bands all over the country for years and was so appreciated by Frederik VIII, that he decided to continue the tradition of an official march of honour.

March in honour of King Christian X 

Original name in Danish: “Kong Christian den Xs Honnørmarsch”

The composer of “March in Honour of King Christian X”, Joachim Andersen, was the first composer of marches in honour of a royal person who was not a military musician. He was a flutist and symphonist, and both harmoniously and rhythmically, this march differs from the tradition. Consequently, it was only played a few times during the reign of Christian X. Instead, the king preferred “Riberhus March” from the Bournonville ballet “Erik Menved’s Childhood”, composed by Johannes Frølich in 1843. However, Joachim Andersen who wrote the march in 1906, never experienced this, as he died in 1909 and his march was not elevated to honour march of the king until 1912.

March in honour of King Frederik IX 

Original name in Danish: “Kong Frederik d. IX’s Honnørmarch”

When Frederik 9 became King of Denmark in 1947, several marches already existed under the name “Crown Prince Frederik’s March of Honour”. However, none of them became honour march for the king, but instead a newly composed march by the conductor Kai Verner Nielsen was chosen.

The year before, Kai Verner Nielsen had become Director of Music of The Royal Life Guards, where he also had served as a young bandsman. Nielsen wrote the march in a short time, and since then this piece of music has become one of the most popular of all the marches in honour of royals.

Frederik IX himself was a highly capable conductor of music, and personally the king helped to select this march from among the many candidates.

March in honour of Queen Ingrid 

At her wedding in 1935, Crown Princess Ingrid received a special, musical gift. As the first royal person who was not a future or present regent,The Crown Princess was presented with an official march of honour, and the composer was the above-mentioned Kai Verner Nielsen who 12 years later composed the march of honour for her husband, Frederik IV.

Thus, the tradition of marches of honour for the king was developed also to include other members of The Royal Family. At the succession to the Throne in 1947, the composition changed name, and became “March in Honour of Queen Ingrid”, and even today, it is at the top of the list of marches played by the band of The Royal Life Guards.

The march follows the tradition from H.C. Lumbye, which means that the theme in the second part of the march is delicate and elegant as a musical portrait of the young princess. Also, in the first part of the march, something new happens, adding an additional underlying side theme when the first part of the march is repeated. This element has also been embraced by the recent marches of honour.

Parade march of Queen Margrethe II 

When HM Queen Margrethe became Head of State in 1972, it was the existing “March in Honour of Princess Margrethe” that became the official march of the new queen. The light and merry march was written by Robert Svanesøe, the Director of Music of The Royal Life Guards. However, a new march was composed after the accession to the throne, by the Danish conductor Johan Hye-Knudsen. Unfortunately, this piece of music was not suited for marching troops.

Consequently, a national competition for a new march for Queen Margrethe was announced in 1980. However, since the monarch can have only one official march of honour, the new march was supposed to be a parade march, and the choice fell on a newly composed work by Arne Ole Stein, a clarinetist in the Band of The Royal Life Guards.

In the parade march, the tradition of creating a portrait of the monarch was continued. In addition to references to the Danish song treasure with Hans Christian Andersen’s “In Denmark I was born”, the march also includes the theme from the old English song “Daisy Bell”. This is a tribute to Her Majesty, whose familiar nickname is “Daisy”. Also, the signal of The Royal Life Guards is elegantly incorporated. The signal is traditionally blown when the parade for the royal palace leaves The Life Guard’s barracks at Rosenborg Palace in Copenhagen. In addition, Stein also uses the signal “Salute for Royal Family and Flag” in this honour march.

March in honour of Prince Henrik 

As a wedding gift in 1967, Prince Henrik, The Prince Consort of Her Majesty, was presented with a march with clear references to the traditions in The Prince’s country of birth, France. However, the march is in a faster pace compared to Danish marches, which means that the march is not composed for marching as such, but to be performed standing.

In “March in Honour of Prince Henrik”, small greetings to The Prince have been placed in the piece of music. In addition, particular tones from French military marches are heard. The march was composed by Preben Beyer, son of the above-mentioned composer Kai Nielsen.

March in honour of Crown Prince Frederik

When HM The King as Crown Prince turned 30 years old in 1998, it was decided that a march of honour should be written. Just as was the case when Queen Margrethe’s Parade March was to be found, an open competition was launched to submit the best bids for a march.

However, none of the marches taking part in the competition was chosen. Instead, the composer Jens Vilhelm Pedersen known as Fuzzy, was asked to compose the march, and together with the then-crown prince he developed what is today the "March in Honour of Crown Prince Frederik". The march is instrumented by Stig Sønderiis, trumpeter in the Band of The Royal Life Guards.

As in the old marches of H.C. Lumbye, military signals have been placed in “March in Honour of Crown Prince Frederik”. In addition to the king’s signal, also the signal of the Navy is woven into the piece of music, additionally there are references to the American John Philip Sousa’s “Washington Post March” and the Danish Carl Nielsen’s “Like a Traveling Fleet Eager to Depart”.

March in honour of Queen Mary 

“March in Honour of Crown Princess Mary” was composed in 2014 by David M.A.P. Palmquist, Director of Music at The Royal Life Guards. Following the succession of the throne in 2024 the march changed name to "March in honour of Queen Mary".

When the then-crown prince took part in the making of his march, the then-crown princess contributed with ideas to David Palmquist for the composition of her march. This resulted in a march with several paraphrases of melodies of particular importance to HM The Queen. 

At the funeral of the mother of The Queen, Henrietta Clark Donaldson, in 1997, the hymn “Eternal Father, strong to save” was sung just as it was during the wedding of The King and Queen in Copenhagen on 14 May 2004. This melody is woven into the march together with the well-known Australian folk song “Waltzing Mathilda” and the Danish Royal Anthem.

Prince Joachim's March 

The march in honour of HRH Prince Joachim, younger brother to The King, is composed by Arne Ole Stein, who also is the composer of the Parade March of Queen Margrethe II.

The march was the winner of a competition published by Western Land Command, a former military staff in charge of Danish troops in Jutland and Funen. The competition took place when The Prince was serving as an officer at the now disbanded Prince´s Life Regiment in the Jutland town of Viborg. The first performance of the march was carried out in 1989 by the then band of Funen Life Regiment in Odense.