New Fanfares To Honor American Spirit, Sacrifice, Commissioned For This Pandemic Moment

The timpani and drums kick it off, sharp strokes to get everyone's attention. Trumpets enter in unison, rising to outline an open fifth. By the third note most listeners recognize the piece even if they don't know the name. More drums. French horns join the trumpets creating the first harmony in the piece. Short, simple and very effective, Aaron Copland's “Fanfare for the Common Man” evokes drama and emotion with every super-recognizable note, difficult though it was to name the piece.

Copland wrote his now famous fanfare in 1942 as a commission for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to honor American spirit and sacrifice during WWII. Now the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops are continuing their tradition by commissioning new fanfares for 2020 with The Fanfare Project.

At this dramatic time in history, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the aim of the project is “to inspire and uplift, and to help us make sense of this moment in our shared history through the universal language of music. ”

More than a dozen composers will write pieces that feature a solo musician and will be released digitally over the coming weeks.

“vitres (fragment...)”, the first commissioned fanfare, is written by Matthias Pintscher and features Cincinnati Symphony's Principal Oboe Dwight Parry. Upcoming commissions include fanfares by Missy Mazzoli, Caroline Shaw, Gabriel Kahane, Tyshawn Sorey and others.

Will any of these new fanfares rise to the popularity and ubiquity of "Fanfare For The Common Man?" Time will tell.

Copland found the inspiration for the title of his piece in a speech from sitting American Vice President Henry A. Wallace.

“We who live in the United States may think there is nothing very revolutionary about freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom from the fear of secret police. But when we begin to think about the significance of freedom from want for the average man, then we know that the revolution of the past 150 years has not been completed, either here in the United States or in any other nation in the world. We know that this revolution cannot stop until freedom from want has actually been attained.

…Some have spoken of the “American Century:” I say that the century on which we are entering—the century which will come out of this war—can be and must be the century of the common man. ”

Vice President Henry A. Wallace

Of the 18 different fanfares commissioned in 1942 by Cincinnati Symphony conductor Eugene Goossens, only Copland's has ended up becoming an essential classic. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra premiered the piece as the opener for their concert on March 14, 1943, right when income taxes were due that year. Copland said, “I was all for honoring the common man at income tax time.”

You can hear Copland's “Fanfare for the Common Man” and other great pieces during the Essential Classics Weekend on CPR Classical, Thursday, May 21 through 9 p.m. Memorial Day.

Listen to CPR Classical on your radio at 88.1 FM in Denver, stream the music by clicking on "Listen Live" in the navigation above or by asking your smart speaker to "Play CPR Classical."