Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man

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Copland’s Fanfare, written for brass and percussion, starts with a slow pattern in the bass drum, timpani, and gong, then the trumpets come in with the melody/ fanfare. Once through the theme, the percussion comes back with its theme. The melodic material returns, doubled in the French horns, and then varied to reach higher into the range. The percussion comes in again, and then trombones and tuba get their own fanfare. From here, the high and low brass trade around the fanfare, overlapping, and repeating it until they come together with it at the end. With each repetition and additional voice it increases in grandeur, until the work closes with a crescendo in the percussion matched by a swelling chord in the brass.

Copland’s fanfare is in the strong open-fourth and -fifth harmonies that cause it to sound open. Also allowing it to sound open are the unisons in each instrument group, and the slower rhythms; for a fanfare, it is uncommonly slow, and is marked “Very deliberately.” Copland alters rhythms and harmonies to great effect in this piece.  He could have easily repeated the same theme in the same way each time, but the piece is much more compelling thanks to his changes. This piece is also effective because it doesn’t have frills or flourishes. It is powerful in its simplicity, and “simplicity” does not equal “boring”.

The first divergence from the Bb key is an Ab that then leads to an Eb major chord. After this, everything is in Bb until a new chord has Ab and Db. In the next phrase, he uses an F major chord which has not previously been used. Each of these, and the ending, is a strategic modulation or deviation that is so well placed that nothing sticks out as being “different.” At the end of the piece, Copland deviates from Bb again with the notes E-natural and C#, eventually landing on a D major chord for the last few measures of the piece. Again, this sounds entirely natural due to Copland’s  skills at composition.

As a “Fanfare for the Common Man,” Copland does the ‘common man’ justice because most people live relatively simple lives (this does not exclude them from being hectic) that don’t have bells and whistles and that are not all that much different from anyone else’s. This piece is able to be simple and majestic at the same time, showing that even if we are leading a regular life, this doesn’t exclude us from being great or heroic.



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