Sunday, 19 September 2010

Montague Phillips: Empire March, Op. 68

This Empire March is not a pastiche of William Walton’s Crown Imperial or Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance or Imperial Marches yet, there is definitely a nod in this direction. The work was first given at a Promenade Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1942 and was conducted by Sir Henry Wood.
The march opens with a rousing first theme. This is characterised by clarity of material and a certain incisiveness of part writing that is perhaps unusual in ‘concert marches’. However we soon arrive at the inevitable big tune which is actually quite gorgeous and moving. There is a hymn like quality about it without the implied religion. After a few mock fanfares the opening theme re-establishes itself - but with some variation. The inevitable build up begins leading to the reprise of the ‘trio’ theme. This time it is played ‘ff’ with full organ accompaniment. After a final flourish the march ends in triumph.
Of course we no longer have an Empire – perhaps even in 1942 the philosophy of Empire was nearly evacuated of meaning. Yet the war was at its nadir – and the Commonwealth of Nations and the Allies were fighting to retain the freedoms associated with all that was great about Britain’s achievements. In those dark days victory was not yet guaranteed.

This march is as good as many that have been composed over the years. If it had been written by Elgar or Walton it would have been a ‘favourite’ with the musical public. We are lucky to have it available on the Dutton Epoch CDLX 7158

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