Elmer Bernstein: The Great Escape Main Title


Elmer Bernstein is fondly remembered as being one of the leading film composers of the 20th Century. His music is some of the most recognisable, with his scores for The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963) and Ghostbusters (1984) being particular stand outs. Throughout his career, Bernstein was nominated for 14 Oscars, as well as winning two Golden Globes, an Emmy Award and was also nominated multiple times for Grammy Awards and a Tony. 

The Great Escape was released in 1963, and has remained one of Bernstein’s most popular scores. The militaristic-style score stood out from many of his contemporaries at the time, and paired with memorable melodies, this score was destined to be successful. 


The Music

After a bold and brassy introduction, a militaristic snare drum leads into a lower brass bassline. The cheeky main melody is then played by the woodwind, who lead us through the first listen of the famous tune. The fluctuations between dotted and non-dotted crotchets gives the melody its bouncy nature. The brass joins the wind, as does the snare drum, which begins to thicken the texture of the melody. 

A second theme is then heard from the brass, which is counteracted by a new theme that the strings play. The unison chordal stabs bring the ensemble back together before the lower brass bring back their bassline. The horns now take over the melody before being joined by the woodwinds. Bernstein then creates another countermelody played by the strings. The bold brass introduction is heard again before the woodwind repeats their opening phrases. After another play through of the famous melody, the theme to The Great Escape comes to its bold conclusion with the orchestra back in unison. 


Final Thoughts

Although only short in duration and repetitive in nature, the Main Title to The Great Escape remains one of Elmer Bernstein’s most famous scores. The memorable melody paired with Bernstein’s clever orchestrations makes this a truly unforgettable tune. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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