Northshore Classics: Brahms & Copland
November 6, 2021
Aaron Copland (1900 – 1990)
Fanfare for the Common Man
Composed for four french horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, percussion and timpani. Performance length: Approx. 4 minutes
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Opus 73
Composed for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings. Performance length: Approx 45 minutes
Carlos Miguel Prieto
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) – Symphony no. 2 in D major, op. 73
Composed for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings.
Performance length: approximately 45 minutes
First performance by the LPO given November 1993
Most recent performance by the LPO November 2019
Brahms’ reluctance to compose a symphony has been well documented. So intimidated by what he regarded as the “perfection” of Beethoven’s symphonies, Brahms felt himself unworthy to write a symphony until he felt capable as a composer to step into the shadow of Beethoven. His first symphony (op. 68) took twenty-one years of intermittent work until the composer felt confident enough to have it published. By that point, Brahms was already forty-three years old.
His first symphony was met with rousing fanfare and public approval, to Brahms’ great relief. This likely relieved a weight from his shoulders, because the second symphony took much less time for him to complete. From initial sketches to completion, the work was finished during a summer stay in Austria, when Brahms visited the province of Carinthia. The symphony was given its premiere by the Vienna Philharmonic in November of 1877 (only 13 months after the premiere of his first symphony.)
The symphony’s pleasant, pastoral tone drew immediate comparison to Beethoven’s sixth symphony, (which surely created no small amount of ire from Brahms,) considering he constantly referred to the symphony’s “sad,” and “melancholic” tone to his publisher.
Regardless of Brahms’ own feelings towards the work, his second symphony has endured to be one of his most frequently performed symphonic works.
The symphony is in a traditional four-movement structure, the first, Allegro non troppo begins serenely, with an introduction drifting its way through the entire orchestra until the main melody is finally introduced. This movement is also where Brahms’ famous “lullaby” melody comes from. Listen for its appearance in the cellos and violas.
The second movement Adagio non troppo is perhaps the most adventurous, structurally speaking. Brahms allows his imagination to take us into some of the most tenuous harmonic and melodic places, where, while not the most comfortable music for musicians to play, leads us to some of the most beautiful spaces in this symphony.
The third movement, Allegretto grazioso (quasi andantino) would probably be the most comparable to Beethoven’s Pastoral. The movement begins with a simple, lilting melody in the oboe, who is gradually joined by other voices in an untroubled journey before a spirited trio section, led by the strings, evokes a rustic, bustling village.
The fourth movement, Allegro con spirito, begins with a quiet, sostenuto melody which is active, yet subdued. The energy of the moment is too great to contain, however, and the orchestra soon erupts in an explosion of color and excitement that carries us through to the end.
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)— Fanfare for the Common Man (1942)
Composed for four french horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, percussion and timpani
Performance length: approximately 4 minutes
First performed by the LPO on November 1995
Most recently performed by the LPO on September 2020
In the summer of 1942, the world was embroiled in some of the darkest days of World War II. The United States had only recently become drawn into the war, and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra music director, Eugene Goosens, approached Aaron Copland about writing a fanfare to inspire the American people and support the burgeoning war effort. Goosens felt that Copland, as the “dean” of American composers would be the perfect candidate to capture both a spirit of optimism and to inspire Americans in the war effort.
Copland agreed and attempted a few drafts of a fanfare with working titles such as “Fanfare for a Solemn Ceremony” and “Fanfare for Four Freedoms” before settling on “Fanfare for the Common Man” which Copland himself said he was inspired to do because “—it was the common man, after all, who was doing all the dirty work in the war and the army. He deserved a fanfare.”
Premiered in November of 1942, the fanfare was a rousing success, inspiring just the sort of reaction from audiences that Goosens and Copland hoped for. The fanfare has gone on to become an iconic piece of American musical literature, inspiring classical and non-classical musicians alike to study and incorporate it’s memorable writing into their own work. Progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer popularized the work to their audiences in the 1970’s while Copland himself even re-used the melody as part of his Third Symphony (1946.) John Williams borrows much of the influences of Copland’s heroic writing for the fanfares he has composed for the Olympics in recent decades.