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Fanfare for the Common Man

Aaron Copland (1900-1990)

Copland spent his student years in the early 1920s in Paris, studying with the great French composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. It was she who encouraged him to find individuality in his compositions. His response was a Symphony for Organ and Orchestra. At its premiere, conductor Walter Damrosch said: "If a man of 25 can write music like this, in five years he'll be ready to commit murder."

This well known concert opener was written in 1942 in response to an approach from Eugene Goosens to some 18 American composers for patriotic fanfares for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s 1942-3 season to honour all those involved in the action of World War II.

In late August 1942, Eugene Goossens, the conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony, wrote to Copland requesting a patriotic fanfare to help with the war effort. Goossens suggested the instrumentation of brass and percussion and length of about two minutes. A large group of American composers were given similar requests, and Goossens hoped to perform Copland's fanfare in October at his first concert of the season. Since Copland did not deliver the Fanfare until November, Goossens suggested another date: March 12, 1943, as it would then be income tax time, an ideal opportunity for honoring the common man. Copland subsequently included it in his Third Symphony.

  • Fanfares are an ancient part of the brass repertoire and we have a page all about them here.
  • You can learn all about the Surrey Brass Golden Jubilee Fanfare Contest here.


In the first volume of his autobiography (Copland, 1900 through 1942, St. Martin’s/Marek, 1984), the composer recounted the genesis of his popular Fanfare for the Common Man: “Eugene Goossens, conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, had written to me at the end of August [1942] about an idea he wanted to put into action for the 1942-43 concert season. During World War I he had asked British composers for a fanfare to begin each orchestral concert. It had been so successful that he thought to repeat the procedure in World War II with American composers. [Goossens’ additional requests inspired a total of ten fanfares from such other notable musicians as Creston, Cowell, Piston, Thomson, Milhaud and Gould. ]

Goossens wrote: ‘It is my idea to make these fanfares stirring and significant contributions to the war effort, so that I suggest you give your fanfare a title, as for instance, “A Fanfare for Soldiers, or for Airmen or Sailors.” I am asking this favour in a spirit of friendly comradeship, and I ask you to do it for the cause we all have at heart. . . .’ As with Lincoln Portrait, I was gratified to participate in a patriotic activity. Goossens, a composer himself, suggested the instrumentation of brass and percussion and a length of about two minutes. He intended to open the concert season in October with my fanfare, so I had no time to lose.

“The challenge was to compose a traditional fanfare, direct and powerful, yet with a contemporary sound. . . . The music was not terribly difficult to compose, but working slowly as was my custom, I did not have the fanfare ready to send to Goossens until November. The piece has been Fanfare for the Common Man for so long that it is surprising to see on my sketches that other titles were considered: Fanfare for a Solemn Ceremony, for the Day of Victory, for Our Heroes, for the Rebirth of Lidice, for the Spirit of Democracy, for the Paratroops, for Four Freedoms.

After I decided on Fanfare for the Common Man and sent the score to Goossens, I think he was rather puzzled by the title. He wrote, ‘Its title is as original as its 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 14 March [sic] 1943 at income tax time. . . .’ [The income tax deadline was changed to April after the War.] I was all for honoring the common man at income tax time. “Since that occasion, Fanfare has been played by many and varied ensembles, ranging from the U.S. Air Force Band to the popular Emerson, Lake, and Palmer group. . .  I confess that I prefer Fanfare in the original version, and I later used it in the final movement of my Third Symphony.”

Here is some more on Aaron Copland.


The arrangement is for 10 piece ensemble with a large amount of percussion including tam-tam. — — timp.perc:tam-t/BD

Surrey Brass use the composer's original arrangement. It's in one short movement, playing duration, about 2 minutes. It's not hard to play, but it is hard to play well, especially live, where everyone knows where the split notes have come from!


Few recordings do this piece justice. The problem with recording it is that the dynamic range starts very quiet and it gets very LOUD at the end. Listening to it tends to damage stereos and relations with the neighbours when played at the proper volume. 

However, Andy Coburn has take the trouble to contact us to say that the HDCD version recorded on Reference Recordings (RR-93CD), performed by the Minnesota Orchestra is simply superb! He says "A word of warning: When you do play this CD be absolutely certain your speakers can take the power of the timpani and bass drums. You will not believe the volume of the percussion section."  

He's not alone. Another reviewer said "This recording is phenomenal! It can only be described as earth-shaking. The bass drum hits will knock you off your chair. It ends with Copland's "Third Symphony," which is a triumph. The Minnesota Orchestra played wonderfully and the recording by Reference Recordings/Keith O. Johnson is beyond compare. If you love Copland, this CD is for you!"

We like the sound of this already, but still say the best way to hear this is live!!

The fanfare has inspired many people to adapt it in different ways including the Emerson Lake and Palmer version, and several samples and hip hop versions. Some of those other recordings are at the top right of this page.

Audience Comments

Click to go to the Surrey Brass Forum!Would you like to hear this piece at our next concert? What did you think of this write up - did it encourage you to listen to it? 


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