American fanfare

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).

Listen For:

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?