Fanfare for the Common Man
by Aaron Copland
Final movement from the Third Symphony
by Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland (1900-1990), was an American composer who wrote a number of well-known pieces such as Appalachian Spring, Rodeo and Billy the Kid. Fanfare for the Common Man is possibly his most famous work.
Copland said this in his autobiography:
“Eugene Goossens, conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, had written to me at the end of August about an idea he wanted to put into action for the 1942-43 concert season. During World War I he had asked British composers for a fanfare to begin each orchestral concert. It had been so successful that he thought to repeat the procedure in World War II, with American composers.”
This piece was inspired by a powerful speech given in 1942, by US vice president, Henry Wallace, where he proclaimed the dawning of the ‘Century of the Common Man’.
Copland wrote his Third Symphony 1944-46, and used this fanfare as the main theme of the final movement (you can also listen to this below).
Copland scored this fanfare for brass and percussion.
- What a start! He grabs our attention with the bass drum, timpani and tam-tam (see picture below)
The trumpets play the main theme:
Successful fanfare melodies mainly use the tonic and dominant notes. This is no exception! The highlighted parts demonstrate this:
The key is B flat major, so B flat is the tonic and F is the dominant.
Blue = dominant (F)
Purple = tonic (B flat)
Not only has Copland made prolific use of the tonic and dominant notes, he has also included some strong melodic intervals:
It starts with a rising perfect 4th (F to B flat), moving to a rising perfect 5th (B flat to F). This interval is repeated in bar 2,and at the end of bar 3 there is a falling perfect 4th. The melody ends with a falling perfect 5th.
All these 4ths and 5ths give a feeling of space and openness to the melody.
What about the rhythm?
The rhythm is interesting because it starts with a pair of semiquavers, which wouldn’t seem to be a very strong way to begin a fanfare! The tied notes also displace the rhythmic feel of the melody. Notice how the phrase marks often go over the bar line, meaning that the start of a phrase doesn’t always happen on the strongest beat.
Things To Consider:
- What do you think of the re-orchestration of the fanfare in the Third Symphony? Is it effective played on different instruments?
- If you were asked to write a fanfare what combination of instruments would you choose?
- How would you create an opening with impact, as Copland has done here?