Chase Jordan

Latest articles

The Connection Between Politics and Music

The Connection Between Politics and Music

01.05.2015 Article

As history has influenced music, music has influenced history. This becomes evident in an examination of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man", which was meant to both garner support for American involvement in World War II and to instill the anti-communist spirit as the end of World War II brought about Truman's doctrine of containment.

America developed an isolationist based anti-war sentiment after World War I. This resulted in measures such as Cash and Carry diplomacy, and the US Congress not ratifying the League of Nations, and in literary and film works being published. These included Englebrecht and Hanighen’s book, Merchants of Death, and Marine Corps General Smedly Butler’s film, “War is a Racket”. As World War II moved closer, and Pearl Harbour occurred, entertainment was used as a means to garner the people’s support for the war. Instrumental to this was Aaron Copland’s 1942 composition, ‘Fanfare for the Common Man” because of its purpose, instrumentation, derivative works, and its meaning to the people of America.

Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” was instrumental because it had a purpose in it’s commision, to improve wartime morale. Eugene Goossens, the conductor of the Cincinatti Symphony Orchestra, had commissioned various British composers to write fanfares to open concerts during World War I. In his request to Copeland, Goossens claimed it was extremely successful, and that he wished to repeat it during World War II. Additionally, the work had to make a “stirring and significant contributions to the war effort”, essentially being a piece of musical propaganda. Goossens suggested names such as “Fanfare for Soldiers”, in order to recognize the soldiers, sailors, and airmen sacrificing their lives for America and the West. Copeland considered names such as “Fanfare for the Four Freedoms”, which would allow the piece to serve as a reminder of why America was fighting, to bring to the world the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. But he chose “Fanfare for the Common Man”; possibly because it gave a universal meaning encompassing all four freedoms, and all of the men fighting overseas. In short the universal meaning, that this war was for the common man fought by all, in order to preserve the rights of the the common man throughout the world.

The use of only brass instruments, especially trumpets and trombones, and the heavy use of percussion echoes the title’s purpose as these instruments represented the instruments of the common man of America, and the African ethnic heritage shared by the coloured population of the United States. Instruments of the violin family used in orchestras differed greatly from the fiddles of America, being played with shoulder rests and chin rests unlike most fiddles, which were played with both shoulder and chin rests. Additionally, since these instruments originated in now fascist Italy, the lack of these instruments also seems to show an instrumentation against fascism, as trumpets and other brass instruments were commonly used in jazz music, which was a music of the common man, by the common man. The heavy use of percussion harkens back to African-American ancestry, were drums would be the primary musical instrument of the culture. Therefore, the instrumentation is both of American;s common man and against those evolving from fascist nations, giving it the meaning that it is the common man,

The large amounts of derivatives from this work and their extensive use confirm its goal of garnering support for liberating the common man oppressed by fascism. During World War II and beyond, “Fanfare for the Common Man” has been used for various purposes appealing to and affecting all members of society. Beginning by its 1943 premier during “income tax time”, it has developed a legacy of being a piece for the people, with some performances supporting some social, cultural, and/or economic groups more than others. Starting with a 1972 rendition in Styx’s debut album, this work has been performed by almost every musical genre, from classical, to jazz, and to rock. This trend continued when the Rolling Stones used it to open their 1975 Tour of America and their 1976 Tour of Europe. The Woody Hermann Orchestra also commonly ended concerts with a jazz rendition of the fanfare. One of the most used versions of the fanfare was the 1977 arrangement by British rock band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, which has been used for CBS Sports Spectacular and by Australia’s Channel Seven Sports. Additionally the piece in its original (1942) edition is used during the Olympics, at Chicago Blackhawks games, and has been used during Navy Recruitment campaigns during the 1990s. “Fanfare for the Common Man” is a piece that not only lived up to its purpose during its time period, but also beyond its goal.

Finally, its meaning was not only a meaning for fighting fascism, but extends beyond fascism's boundaries of time. When Copland used the theme of “Fanfare for the Common Man” for the fourth movement of his Symphony No. 3 (written 1946), it was not only used to commemorate America’s victory in freeing the common men of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, but to also add fuel to the fire of freeing the common men of the USSR from the red menace of communism. Since then, it has gained the meaning of fighting social inequality throughout the world, making it not only a quintessential piece of music for the common man, and hence a quintessential piece for the 20th century, which Vice President Henry A Wallace hailed in 1942 as the “Century of the Common Man”.

Hence, we can see that music played a role in garnering American support for World War II. Copland used instrumentation, to fuel his purpose resulting in the continued legacy of “Fanfare of the Common Man” as the quintessential work for the psyche of the 20th century.

Written March 4th, 2014 | Revised April 20th, 2014


Log in to post a comment