Definition and background:
A device used in marches and piano rags to introduce a contrast in style and break the flow of the composition with a loud and intense musical statement. This device is a special form of break strain or break-up strain. The dogfight is special because it characterized by a musical interaction between instruments or groups of instruments playing a short musical phrase followed by another short musical phrase by a different group of instruments. Often the higher voices in the ensemble (i.e. flutes, clarinets and trumpets in a band) play a phrase followed by the lower voices (i.e. trombones, euphoniums and tubas). This, in effect, creates a musical " dogfight " between the higher and lower voices and reinforces the martial notion of the music with the break strain representing the battle. A break strain (or break-up strain) has similar characteristics in terms of being loud and intense, but without the distinct interplay between instruments within the ensemble. The dogfight is normally used to create a break between the repeats of the trio.The Stars and Stripes Forever march by John Philip Sousa has a particularly interesting break strain that is a good example of a dogfight that depicts a battle scene. This particular break strain is of unusual length (twenty four measures) and contrasts two descending lines in the bass instruments against short punctated notes in the treble instruments. This is followed by an arpeggio leading to several repeated chords in the treble instruments answered by another descending line in the bass instruments. This figure is repeated and then altered slightly in two more repeats and ending with a figure descending chromatically and performed in unison by the entire ensemble.
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Wikipedia - Glossary of Musical Terminology
Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary
ORB -- Medieval Music Glossary