In Remembrance: Fanfare for the Common Man
November 8, 2014
Fanfare for the Common Man
Born November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn, New York. Died December 2, 1990, in North Tarrytown, New York.
This work was premiered on March 12, 1943, by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Goossens. It is scored for four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and percussion.
In the late 1930s, Aaron Copland began to face the reality of shrinking audiences at orchestral concerts. He knew there must be a way to draw people back into the concert hall, develop new audiences and energize orchestral music. Copland abandoned his earlier austere style for a new “simple” approach, which often quoted folk music and used an approachable musical language in an effort to remedy the problem. He incorporated jazz-inspired rhythms and elements of popular songs to express his ideas and attract new listeners. To many people, Copland’s style defines Americanism in music. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his Fanfare for the Common Man –a work that is familiar to practically everyone. However, most listeners do not realize that this piece was commissioned by a British conductor.
In early 1942, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conductor Eugene Goossens invited 17 leading composers to submit fanfares to be performed at subscription concerts throughout the upcoming season. World War II had just begun and Goossens wanted to do his part to arouse patriotic sentiment. Each fanfare would honor some aspect of the war effort, usually showcasing a branch of the military or an ally.
In the interest of completeness, each fanfare along with its premiere date is listed below:
Fanfare for Airmen, Bernard Wagenaar, Oct. 9, 1942
Fanfare for Russia, Deems Taylor, Oct. 16, 1942
Fanfare for the Fighting French, Walter Piston, Oct. 23, 1942
Fanfare to the Forces of our Latin-American Allies, Henry Cowell, Oct. 30, 1942
Fanfare for Friends, Daniel Gregory Mason, Nov. 6, 1942
Fanfare for Paratroopers, Paul Creston, Nov. 27, 1942
Fanfare de la Liberte, Darius Milhaud, Dec. 11, 1942
Fanfare for American Heroes, William Grant Still, Dec. 18, 1942
Fanfare for France, Virgil Thomson, Jan. 15, 1943
Fanfare for Freedom, Morton Gould, Jan. 22, 1943
Fanfare for Airmen, Leo Sowerby, Jan. 29, 1943
Fanfare for Poland, Harl McDonald, Feb. 5, 1943
Fanfare for the Medical Corps, Anis Fuleihan, Feb. 26, 1943
Fanfare for the American Soldier, Felix Borowski, March 5, 1943
Fanfare for the Common Man, Aaron Copland, March 12, 1943
Fanfare for the Signal Corps, Howard Hanson, April 2, 1943
Fanfare for the Merchant Marine, Eugene Goossens, April 16, 1943
Fanfare for Commandos, Bernard Rogers, (not performed)
Of the eighteen fanfares, only Copland’s has earned a lasting place in the repertoire. Beginning with assertive and almost aggressive percussion, the work soon introduces the familiar upward reaching theme in the brass. Probably the most striking element in this short work is the overwhelming feeling of nobility that Copland conjures not for an exalted leader or nation, but for ordinary citizens. Copland described his fanfare as a work to bring honor to “the common man, who, after all, was doing all the dirty work in the war and in the army.” The importance of this stirring miniature cannot be overestimated, as Copland included a reworked version of the fanfare in the finale of his Third Symphony, which was composed to celebrate the end of World War II.
Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107
Born September 25, 1906, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Died August 9, 1975, in Moscow, USSR.
The work was given its earliest performance on October 4, 1959, by the Leningrad Philharmonic with Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting and Mstislav Rostropovich as soloist. It is scored for solo cello, piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, horn, timpani, celesta and strings.
The final sentence of Dmitri Shostakovich’s autobiography, entitled Testimony, is: “I wanted to put this down in order to save future generations from the bitterness which has turned my whole life grey.” Coming of age during the earliest years of the Soviet Union, he was indoctrinated with a distrust of the former Tsarist regime that had ruled Russia for over three centuries. As his precocious musical gifts led him to occasional glimpses of the outside world during his teenage years, Shostakovich began to see his government’s deception and he lost faith in Josef Stalin, who was the leader of the USSR from 1924-1953. Shostakovich was well aware of the events happening around him. He knew that price of dissent was often paid with your life, but he had a unique solution to his plight. While composing works that publicly glorified the Soviet leadership – among the titles are Glory to our Soviet Homeland and The Sun Shines Over Our Motherland – he secretly wrote works that were critical of Stalin.
Despite his plan, Shostakovich still ran afoul of the Soviet authorities on two occasions. In 1936 Stalin attended a performance of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and denounced the opera in Pravda as “Muddle Instead of Music.” Performances of Shostakovich’s music all but stopped and the composer was so distraught he became suicidal. His famous “response to just criticism,” the Fifth Symphony (1937), is grandiose and triumphant, representing what the Soviet authorities believed was a glorification of their doctrine. However, most of the world saw it as the composer’s victory over oppression. In 1948 the Union of Soviet Composers, under pressure from Stalin, denounced Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, and several less famous composers. Shostakovich, whose relatively happy Ninth Symphony (1946) had newly angered Party officials, was forced to present a humiliating speech of self-abasement to the full body of the Union the following year. From that moment on, Shostakovich lived on the edge, fearing for his life while extolling the deeply secret truth behind the Soviet arts scene in each of his works. Miraculously, he lived in the USSR until his death of natural causes in 1975.
Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 was composed in 1959 for cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who would defect to the United States as a political refugee in 1974. Opening with a jolly march, the first movement becomes increasingly menacing as it progresses. A lone horn solo gives a plaintive atmosphere, which continues with the second theme pitting the cello against nattering woodwinds. The second movement, marked moderato, is lyrical and elegiac with an eerie duet near the end for celesta and solo cello. Designated as a separate third movement, Shostakovich’s cadenza uses material from the first two movements to prepare the mood for the finale. Connected to the cadenza without pause, the finale is mechanistic and savage – complete with a satirical quotation from Stalin’s favorite song, Suliko (a Georgian folk song about the fitting subject of concealed identities). Remaining ferocious until the final flurry of seven timpani notes, this music is filled with an exhilarating spirit that could not be dampened by a government that thought artistic creativity should exist only to celebrate its own sinister agenda.
Adagio for Strings
Born March 9, 1910, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Died January 23, 1981, in New York.
The work was premiered on November 5, 1938, by the newly formed NBC Symphony Orchestra in New York, under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. It is scored for string orchestra.
The 1920s and 1930s were a period of transition for Samuel Barber. He spent the school year as a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and his summers in Cadegliano, Italy with friend and fellow composer Gian Carlo Menotti. Being in Cadegliano allowed Barber to escape the tensions of his studies in a city that he felt was musically confining. He spent a large portion of his time swimming, bicycling, shopping, playing tennis and composing, which came much more readily to him when combined with leisure activities.
With his career well underway, due largely to Artur Rodzinski’s performance of his Symphony No.1 at the 1937 Salzburg Festival, Barber tried to cement his reputation by finding notable conductors to introduce his newest works. Arturo Toscanini, the esteemed maestro who had premiered Puccini’s final operas, was in Salzburg during the Festival. Barber sent scores of his Essay for Orchestra (he would compose a second such work in 1942) and Adagio for Strings (Barber’s own arrangement of the slow movement from his String Quartet) to Toscanini. Barber knew that a premiere under the baton of the legendary conductor would bode well for his career. Within six months, Toscanini sent the scores back with no explanation. Assuming that the maestro was not interested in the pieces, Barber begrudgingly began a search for another conductor. On vacation with Menotti in 1938, the two discussed visiting Toscanini at his island home in Lake Maggiore. But Barber could not bring himself to visit the man who had refused his music. Little did he realize that Toscanini had memorized both scores and would premiere them before the year ended. Barber’s close association with Toscanini brought him recognition as one of the leading young composers of his generation.
The introspective and meditative Adagio is one large arch of sound. It begins softly and slowly rising in pitch and intensity until it reaches a devastating emotional climax – only to stop abruptly and return to the bottom of the broken arch. NBC Radio broadcasted the work after the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, causing the piece to take on a new life as an expressive elegy. It has since given solace to those mourning President John F. Kennedy, Princess Grace of Monaco and the victims of the 9-11 tragedies in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op. 36
Sir Edward Elgar
Born June 2, 1857, at Broadheath, near Worcester, England. Died February 23, 1934, at Worcester, England.
This work was first performed on June 19, 1899, in St. James Hall in London, England, with Has Richter conducting. In addition to solo violin, it is scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, three bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, organ (optional) and strings.
Sir Edward Elgar is considered by many to have been the quintessential English composer. His music is filled with stirring themes that make one think of all the pomp of circumstance of coronation, the beauty of the English countryside and the reserved sophistication that represents British-ness in the minds of many. However, his own countrymen were slow to accept his music. He was nearly 50 years old before his reputation was sealed with the premiere of one work – the Enigma Variations.
As many have explained, there are actually three puzzles in this work. Elgar’s main theme, which returns in various guises throughout the work, is entitled “Enigma,” but no solution is given as to its meaning. Most scholars believe that the puzzle is simply a musical setting of the rhythm of the composer’s own name. Elgar’s other two enigmas are perhaps best explained using his own words:
“It is true that I have sketched for their amusement and mine the idiosyncrasies of fourteen of my friends, not necessarily musicians, but this is a personal matter and need not have been mentioned publicly. (The initials, however, appear in the printed score.) The variations should stand simply as a ‘piece’ of music. The Enigma I will not explain. Its dark saying must be left unguessed and I warn you that the apparent connection between the variations and the theme is often of the slightest texture. Further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes,’ but is not played. So the principal Theme never appears, even as in some late dramas – e.g. Maeterlinck’s L’Intruse and Les Sept Princesses – the chief character is never on the stage.”
As to the larger enigma, it remains unsolved. However, the smaller puzzle of connecting initials to Elgar’s friends was cracked by the composer himself when he revealed the solution in 1920. Presented below, each musical variation reflects certain defining characteristics of each of its subjects.
Variation I (C.A.E.): Caroline Alice Elgar was the composer’s wife. The tender and sentimental quality of this variation blends seamlessly with the theme.
Variation II (H.D.S-P): Elgar’s pianist friend Hew David Steuart-Powell was a pianist who played trios with Elgar (violin) and Basil G. Nevinson (cello). The pianistic type of runs in the violins at the opening suggests the exercises of Steuart-Powell warming up his fingers.
Variation III (R.B.T.): Richard Baxter Townshend was an actor whose voice was capable of unusual changes of pitch. He was also known for his incessant ringing of a bell as he rode a tricycle around Oxford. Upper strings and woodwinds state the variation followed by growling basses.
Variation IV (W.M.B.): R.B.T.’s brother-in-law, William Meath Baker, was a man of great energy and one fiery in argument. His eccentricities, especially his habit of slamming doors in anger, are expressed in this musical portrait, relying on brass and heavy timpani.
Variation V (R.P.A.): Richard Penrose Arnold, son of Matthew Arnold, was a man of changing moods and comic witticisms. His characteristic laugh is heard in this variation.
Variation VI (Ysobel): Isabel Fitton was a very tall viola student for whom Elgar wrote a set of practice exercises. Both the exercise and her stature are reflected in this viola-centric variation.
Variation VII (Troyte): Arthur Troyte Griffith was an architect who designed Elgar’s house at Malvern. He was a man of excitable and tempestuous temperament who dabbled as an amateur pianist. Elgar gave noble effort to help this dear friend learn to play the instrument, but these efforts led inevitably to an exasperated slam of the keyboard lid.
Variation VIII (W.N.): Elgar’s neighbor, Winifred Norbury, is honored with a variation that pays homage to her gracious old-world courtesy. It leads without pause to the most famous of Elgar’s variations.
Variation IX (Nimrod): This most eloquent of all the variations is a tribute to the composer’s close friend, A.J. Jaeger, editor of The Musical Times and adviser to the firm of Novello which published many of Elgar’s compositions. (In German “Jaeger” means hunter – thus the reference to “Nimrod” the mighty hunter.)
Variation X (Dorabella – Intermezzo): Dorabella refers to Miss Dora Penny, the daughter of a local parson. Elgar favoured the nickname “Dorabella” because of the reference to the bright practicality of Mozart’s character in Cosi fan tutte. Even her pronounced stammer is reflected in this variation.
Variation XI (G.R.S.): Dr. George Robertson Sinclair was the organist of Hereford Cathedral and was also known for his loveable bulldog named Dan. The chordal brass suggests the sound of the organ, while the playful and puckish string writing represents Dan. A delightful story relates how Dan rolled down the bank of the River Wye, only to swim upstream to the shore where he barked loudly.
Variation XII (B.G.N.): Basil G. Nevinson was cellist who played in Elgar’s piano trio. Elgar described this variation as “a tribute to a very dear friend whose scientific and artistic attainments, and the wholehearted way they were put at the disposal of his friends, particularly endeared him to the writer.”
Variation XIII (***): The original inscription of a trio of asterisks was later found to mask a reference to Lady Mary Lygon, who was at the time en route to Australia. For the intimate group of friends who could even hope to understand the reference, Elgar inserted a clarinet solo with a phrase from Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. The pulse of drums are said to represent the hum of the ship’s engines.
Variation XIV (E.D.U.): The Finale, elaborate and heavily orchestrated, is both a self-portrait and a musical culmination. “Edoo” was the composer’s wife’s nickname for her husband. The work ends in a broad presentation of the theme in a stately major key.
©2014 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig Doolin