Eric Coates: The Dambusters March

Context

Composed as the theme to the 1955 British war film, The Dam Busters, Eric Coates’ work of the same name is one his most beloved works. The music has become synonymous with both the film and the real Operation Chastise. Often used as an accompaniment for flypasts in the UK, The Dambusters March is also nearly always on the programme at summer Proms events. The march was first recorded by the Associated British Studio Orchestra. 

 

The Music

Opening with a rumbling theme that begins with the lower strings and works it way through the orchestra until the ensemble unite for the first fanfare climax of the piece. The music settles into a spritely march that is led by the upper strings and winds, with the lower strings providing a light accompaniment. 

The fast pace of the melody is then suddenly drawn to a halt as the music halves in time for the iconic lyrical melody. Led by the upper strings, the drawn out melody moves in steps for the most part and is an effective counterpart to the spritely theme that came before it. 

A quick and piercing fanfare from the trumpets leads the orchestra into a reprise of this lyrical theme, this time more densely scored. Now led by the trumpets and trombones, the theme, although still lyrical, is now more raucous with the addition of the countermelodies and the loud percussion.

A reprise of the opening material is then played. Tension is beginning to build once more until the climax from the opening of the march is heard once again. The orchestra collectively begin to dramatically slow down before crashing into the final reprise of the lyrical theme. This time the theme is slowed right down and is chiefly led by the strings, although most of the orchestra are playing in unison at this point. 

The final brass fanfare adds tension by moving up chromatically before the timpani joins and the final rousing chords are played out by the brass. 

 

Final Thoughts

The excitement at the end of The Dambusters March adds to the novelty of this piece, as it soars through different melodies before uniting for the final play through the iconic lyrical theme. The work has so far stood the test of time, especially for British audiences. This novel march showcases Eric Coates’ keen eye for memorable melody writing. 

 

Happy Reading!

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