November 6 2017 marked the 75th anniversary of this work for brass and percussion
Commissioned just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Fanfare for the Common Man was premiered by the Cincinnati Symphony under music director Eugene Goossens. The title, according to Copland, came from a speech by vice-president Henry A. Wallace who had stated that the post-war century “can and must be the century of the common man.”
The original score is in the Copland Collection in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C and has endured for 75 years as a powerful iconic piece of music that, like the bugle call Taps, is easily recognized within the first three notes of the trumpets. His use of the overtone series in the brass evokes militaristic sounds of field trumpets and his use of open fourth and fifth harmonies give it that distinct “Copland” sound that paved the way for a generation of composers and film scorers.
It is that distinguishable musical tonal quality that as been described as the “American” sound. Listen to the soundtrack of “The Natural” and you can hear the influence of Copland. Or just say, “Beef It’s what’s for Dinner” and you’ll get the Copland sound in your head. Elmer Bernstein’s music drips with Copland influence. Copland is as American as John Philip Sousa and if there ever was a category of “National Fanfare” certainly “Fanfare for the Common Man” would take that title.
Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” is a piece about all Americans, said the University of Cincinnati’s musicologist bruce d. mcclung. As stated by Janelle Gelfand, in the article “Copland’s Fanfare: The making of a musical monument” (https://www.cincinnati.com/story/entertainment/2016/11/05/coplands-fanfare-making-musical-monument/92508708/), “As fanfares go, “Fanfare for the Common Man” is unlike any other. It begins solemnly, with dramatic booms in bass drum, timpani and tam-tam. It is thinly scored, spacious, almost reverent, with wide-open harmonies that conjure America’s fields of waving grain, prairie lands and mountain ranges. Brass instruments join in a majestic chorale that ends on a note of optimism. Heard at that time, it was more than a morale-booster. There was something else about it, something noble and intangible.”
From a musical analysis point of view, “Fanfare for the Common Man” is very well constructed with Copland understanding the overtone series of brass instruments to make the piece really shimmer. Playing on Bb trumpets, horns in F and trombones it uses the open (without valves) notes to start the work. On Bb instruments this creates a resonating sound that it quite pleasing to the ear. (Although I don’t understand why many trumpeters use a C Trumpet!). Although one might consider this work in Bb concert (the tonal “home base”) he moves through the keys of Ab and Eb and F before eventually landing on D to finish the work.
A truly remarkable and much copied piece of art for our nation. Happy 75th!