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Aaron Copland, "Fanfare for the Common Man"

Fanfare for the Common Man

Aaron Copland

Born: November 14, 1900, Brooklyn, New York

Died: December 2, 1990, Sleepy Hollow, New York

Composed: 1942

Duration: 4 minutes

In 1942, in the midst World War II, conductor Eugene Goossens of the Cincinnati Symphony approached Aaron Copland with a request to write a fanfare. As assistant conductor of Thomas Beecham's Queen's Hall Orchestra during the First World War, Goossens had asked British composers to write fanfares with which the orchestra would open each concert. He wished to repeat this gesture during the current conflict, and engaged 18 composers to write fanfares for the 1942-43 season; of them, only Copland's has stood the test of time.

Goossens suggested to the composers that the works be titled after various allies and fighting organizations. Some of the fanfares included A Fanfare for Russia, by Deems Taylor, Fanfare for the Signal Corps, by Howard Hanson, Fanfare de la Liberte, by Darius Milhaud, and A Fanfare for the Fighting French, by Walter Piston; even Goossens tried his hand at one, a Fanfare for the Merchant Marine. However, when Copland finally chose the common man as his dedicatee after toying with the titles "Fanfare for a Solemn Ceremony" and "Fanfare for Four Freedoms," Goossens declared the work's final title "as original as its music." He then chose what he thought was a suitable special occasion for its premiere: March 12, 1943, near the time to file income tax. Copland is said to have replied, "I [am] all for honoring the common man at income tax time."

Copland's fanfare is by now so familiar that it is difficult to assess what makes it so memorable. Copland himself knew he had something notable, and he uses the theme again in the final movement of his Third Symphony (1946). Certainly it evidences the strong, spare open-fourth and -fifth harmonies that were so integral to Copland's compositions during this "populist" period. It is also remarkably slow, for a fanfare: Copland marked it "Very deliberately." It begins with a call to arms from the percussion (timpani, bass drum, and tam tam), then we wait for a full measure as the tam tam dies away. But it is the heroic trumpet theme that draws us in, with both its majesty and energy. The theme is soon passed between trombones and tuba, and then horns and trumpets. With each repetition and additional voice it increases in grandeur, until the work closes with a crescendo in the percussion matched by a swelling chord in the brass. The whole is one of those happy works that seem so 'right,' it is as if the composer had discovered a force of nature and simply set it to paper.

Aaron Copland, Fanfare for the Common Man

New York Philharmonic, James Levine, conductor

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