Fanfare for the Common Man
BORN: November 14, 1900. Brooklyn, New York
DIED: December 2, 1990. Peekskill, New York
WORLD PREMIERE: March 12, 1943. Eugene Goosens led the Cincinnati Symphony
SFS PERFORMANCES: FIRST—Although the San Francisco Symphony has performed the work often, the first subscription performances were given only in May 1999, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting MOST RECENT—September 2005. also under MTT’s direction
INSTRUMENTATION: 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, and tam-tam.
DURATION: About 3 mins
Aaron Copland was trained as a composer in Paris, but much of his work has a distinctive sound that has come to be identified with this country’s wide-open spaces, and he created music that will always be identified with this country. Copland took the title of his Fanfare for the Common Man from Henry Wallace, Vice-President of the United States during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third term, when Wallace dubbed the twentieth century “the century of the common man.” The Cincinnati Symphony commissioned this work, one of eighteen such requests put forward to American composers for a fanfare suited to the times. Eugene Goossens, who led the first performance, told the composer: “Its title is as interesting as the music, and I think it is so telling that it deserves a special occasion for its performance. If it is agreeable to you, we will premiere it on March 12, 1943 at income tax time.” Said Copland: “I was all for honoring the common man at income tax time.” The Fanfare for the Common Man is made of the simplest imaginable materials, but Copland’s sense of timing in their deployment is masterful—evident immediately in the majestic but not in the least obvious progression of the percussion’s introductory call to attention. Leonard Bernstein called it “the world’s leading hit tune.”
Michael Steinberg, the San Francisco Symphony’s Program Annotator from 1979 to 1999 and a contributing writer to our program book until his death in 2009, was one of the nation’s pre-eminent writers on music. We are privileged to continue publishing his program notes. His books are available at the Symphony Store in Davies Symphony Hall.
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