Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Ansari, Emily Abrams. “The Benign American Exceptionalism of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.” The Musical Quarterly 103 (Winter 2020): 246-80.

The enduring success of Aaron Copland’s 1942 Fanfare for the Common Man owes in part to the tension it holds between jingoistic and progressive politics that today appeals to a wide array of audiences and politicians. In its conception, Fanfare conveyed a leftist progressive message, celebrating the “common man” based on a speech by Vice President Henry A. Wallace. Until the 1970s, the piece was mostly understood by audiences as dramatic rather than political or patriotic. After Copland conducted Fanfare alongside overtly patriotic pieces at the 1979 National Symphony Orchestra Fourth of July concert, a more “American” meaning was attached to it, largely sidelining its progressive aspects. The use of Fanfare by both the Bush and Obama administrations suggests an association with benign American exceptionalism, tempering patriotic celebrations with a non-specific progressive element. This reconfiguration of the meaning of Fanfare is also evident in the large number of popular works (film and television soundtracks in particular) that utilize the Fanfare trope: trumpets (or horns) playing leaping triads in martial rhythms juxtaposed with loud drums. This trope is distinct from a generalized fanfare by slower tempo, more adventurous harmony, and often a texturally distinct solo trumpet. Rather than evoking overt militarism as a traditional fanfare would, the Fanfare trope is used to evoke benign exceptionalism. Examples of the Fanfare trope feature prominently in the scores to Superman (1978) and The West Wing (1999-2006). Recent works challenging this idea of exceptionalism include HBO’s Veep, the title sequence of which uses the Fanfare trope satirically in its comedic depiction of self-serving politicians, and Netflix’s House of Cards, which offers a cynical take on American politics with a stripped-down Fanfare trope in its title sequence. Given the show’s War on Terror theme, the trumpet in the title sequence of Homeland can also be understood as a fractured Fanfare trope. The Trump Administration’s avoidance of Fanfare and Fanfare tropes along with a trend of Fanfare performances following Biden’s election demonstrates the piece’s continued relevance in American politics.

Works: Anonymous: score to Strong (2011 Rick Perry campaign ad) (247); Aaron Copland: Symphony No. 3 (251); John Williams: score to Superman (263-64); W. G. Snuffy Walden: score to The West Wing (263-64); David Schwartz: score to Veep (264-65); Jeff Beal: score to House of Cards (264-65); Sean Callery: score to Homeland (265-66); Jerry Goldsmith: score to Air Force One (267).

Sources: Aaron Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man (247, 251, 263-67).

Index Classifications: 1900s, 2000s, Film

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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