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Composed: 1943

Length: c. 3 minutes

Orchestration: 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, tam-tam)

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: August 22, 1967, Aaron Copland conducting

About this Piece

Composers in our own century have not been nearly so attuned to the idea of musical nationalism as were their 19th-century predecessors, a fact which made Aaron Copland’s (1900-1990) distinctive efforts on its behalf particularly noteworthy. Dissatisfied with the relations of the music-loving public and the living composer, which he felt had grown increasingly distant, Copland became determined to communicate to a larger audience, to “see if I couldn’t say what I had to say in the simplest possible terms.”

The results were nothing short of amazing, and in almost no time at all, Copland had developed a style which, in its incorporation of various folk materials, was as American as plains and mountains and prairies, cowboys and mountain folk, yet in its informed skill was compositionally sophisticated and artistically tasteful. In short, a minor miracle. Much of the miracle was ballet-oriented, beginning with Billy the Kid in 1938, and going on to Rodeo in 1942 and Appalachian Spring in 1943.

The year of the latter ballet, Copland turned to the most overt kind of patriotic fervor in Fanfare for the Common Man. The piece opens with percussion establishing an ominous mood. Three unison trumpets then present the two-pronged fanfare theme: a characteristic bravura flourish and a sustained idea. Copland’s fanfare concept – to honor the common man who performed his deeds of heroism not on the battlefield but on the home front – may be more implicit in the title than in the music, but one admires the intention. The Fanfare later served Copland well and impressively as the introduction to the finale of his Third Symphony from 1946.

— Orrin Howard