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The unknown composer who would have been King

By Friedrich Dürck - Images in the public domain since 1938, Public Domain,

Several military marches that are a part of our musical heritage were composed by King Carl Johan of Sweden and Norway’s grandson, Prince Gustaf.

In 1852, the 25-year-old Gustaf, the “singer prince,” became the first royal to die at the new palace in the Norwegian capital of Christiania. Despite his young age, he had managed to write more than fifty pieces of music – many of which were high quality, according to music experts.

If he had lived to the average life expectancy, he would become monarch in both Norway and Sweden. He was the second eldest son of King Oscar I and Queen Josephine. His older brother, Carl, was a year older and became King when their father died in 1859. However, Carl passed away relatively young, at the age of 46. Therefore, the third son of King Oscar I became King Oscar II.

Just four months before his death, Gustaf was asked by his father, Oscar I, to lead the work of establishing an archive for the information of the history of the Swedish war and war facilities. Diaries and letters may indicate that he volunteered to receive the assignment as he wanted to study more. Prince Gustaf was a soft man, but as a royal, he had also to undertake military training.

In 1843, he became a volunteer in the cavalry, and it was during this time, he was inspired to compose music. For example, his time in the military gave him the inspiration, at the age of 16, to compost, among other tunes, the march “Till Lif-Regimentets Dragoner 1843.”

A number of Prince Gustaf’s military marches are still often used by the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish military. Additionally, many of his songs are still popular as drinking songs, especially among Norwegian and Swedish students.

In the summer of 1852, King Oscar I became ill and was going on a health trip to Bavaria, which Prince Gustaf joined. After a month, the King had recovered, but on the way home, Prince Gustaf became ill.

Gustaf’s duty as the King’s son was stronger than the duty to take care of his health. Therefore, he joined the arduous sea voyage from Germany via Denmark to Norway. After nine days in bed at the Royal Palace in the Norwegian capital, he died on 24 September 1852.

His death changed the Bernadottes forever. The funeral took place in the Royal Chapel inside Christiania’s Royal Palace. The coffin was then transported by sea to Stockholm, where, upon its arrival, his own military march was performed as a tribute.

The Prince was laid to rest in the Riddarholmen Church.

About author

Senior Europe Correspondent Oskar Aanmoen has a master in military and political history of the Nordic countries. He has written six books on historical subjects and more than 1.500 articles for Royal Central. He has also interview both Serbian and Norwegian royals. Aanmoen is based in Oslo, Norway.