June 2010

Fanfare for the Common Man

by Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland (pronounced COPE-land) was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1900. He is known for establishing a composition style that is uniquely American. There are many patriotic works with his name on them. He's written many works for orchestra and film (most well-known film score is probably the 1939 film of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men).

Eugene Goossens was the conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for, well, much of the early 20th century. During World War I (1914-1918), he had asked British composers to write short fanfares that he would play at the beginning of each concert. A fanfare is a short piece featuring brass and percussion, and is typically military in nature. Goossens' idea was about making people aware of the war going on, and honoring the people fighting.

The fanfares worked very well for World War I, so when World War II started, Goossens wanted to try the same thing. This time, though, he would specifically seek out American composers. One of them was Aaron Copland. The year was 1942. Copland titled his submission Fanfare for the Common Man. Of the title, Goossen wrote to Copland: "Its title is as original as its music, and I think it is so telling that it deserves a special occasion for its performance. If it is agreeable to you, we will premiere it 12 March 1943 at income tax time." Copland replied: "I [am] all for honoring the common man at income tax time."

The drums in this piece are particularly amazing. Pay close attention to them. About half-way through the piece, you'll hear a timpani actually playing the three-note theme normally played by the trumpets.

Jon's Introduction to This Piece:

I think I got into this piece when I was in 8th or 9th grade. I believe my band director Jerry Borchardt had a hand in it. I do remember who introduced me to the Emerson, Lake, and Palmer version of it, though. That'd be a friend of mine named Dan Torkelson.

I have fond memories of playing an arrangement of the Emerson, Lake and Palmer version in pep band during High School basketball games.


So, here it is. This would have been more appropriate a week ago (for Memorial Day), but take a listen anyway.

Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland (3:46)

For those interested, this recording is from an album entitled "Portrait of Freedom". Gerard Schwarz conducted the Seattle Symphony & Chorale.

Jon's Interpretation:

I think what fascinates me about this piece is that you can combine loud percussion with something that is meant to be somber and reflective. The crash of gongs, tamtams, and timpani combined with a solo trumpet really do a great job of conjuring images of fallen soldiers.

I've had a back-and-forth relationship with Aaron Copland's music, but the older I get, the more I recognize his genius. And there's no arguing that he has established an "American" sound.

Extra Credit:

I happened to have a unique recording of this piece. It's a recording of Aaron Copland himself conducting an orchestra playing Fanfare for the Common Man (among other pieces). So, without further ado, here's Copland himself conducting his own piece:

Fanfare for the Common Man conducted by Aaron Copland (3:22)

In the 1970s, there was a British rock group known as Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Keith Emerson was a master pianist/keyboardist. Greg Lake handled guitar and vocals. Carl Palmer handled percussion. One of the things that made them stand out from your typical 70s progressive rock band was their continual incorporation of classical music into their songs. Keith Emerson seemed to take a particular shine to Copland's music. On one of their earlier hit albums, they included a funkified version of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, and here it is. Enjoy!

Fanfare for the Common Man performed by Emerson, Lake and Palmer (2:57)