Skip to page content


Listen to audio:

Composed: 1985

Length: c. 5 minutes

Orchestration: 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 4 horns, percussion (suspended cymbal, glockenspiel, vibraphone, crotales), harp, piano, strings, and 2 solo trumpets

About this Piece

The “kings and queens” of contemporary America don’t have much need for fanfares anymore — even if presidents and hiphop stars do still have walk-on music — so today’s composers need different occasions to trumpet. The eminent modern American composer, John Adams, decided to compose a fanfare for a most modern experience. “You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car,” he asked, “and then you wish you hadn’t?” Short Ride in a Fast Machine, written in 1986 to open a summer festival with the Pittsburgh Symphony, starts off excitingly enough with a steady woodblock motor, as brass and winds swirl past like the wind in this topdown convertible, but the intensity mounts with churning strings and booming bass drum, and the rhythms go herky-jerky. Still, euphoria arises as this “car” barrels along, with soaring horns and shimmering chimes. Adams composed another fanfare a year earlier for the Houston Symphony. Tromba Lontana, meaning “distant trumpet,” was an exercise in subverting expectations. Rather than the brassy bombast typical of the form, this is a fanfare for quiet introspection. It moves like a low-hanging mist, the lonely sound of two solo trumpets curling upward like cosmic questions over a gently pumping wind rhythm. In the composer’s words, the “almost disembodied melody for strings… passes by almost unnoticed like nocturnal clouds.” Adams has delineated these two pieces as very separate from one another — the chime texture is their only shared DNA — but they offer a pleasant contrast not only in the composer’s talents, but also two distinct possibilities within an age-old mold.