The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (291): The common man

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (291): The common man


norman lebrecht

January 20, 2021

Two versions of Aaron Copland’s White House commission.

And this one’s for the composer.


  • So many messages in the issues that surround these video. Fanfare for the Common Man, a wonderful work written in 1942 to address the challenges the country faced in WWII, and the Lincoln Portrait, didn’t keep HUAC from harassing Copland, the effects of which permanently harmed him. His opera The Tender Land, which addressed the plight of American farmers during the depression, revealed an ethos that made him suspect.

    The USA spends three times more on military bands than it does the entire NEA. Probably 10 times more than what the NEA spends on classical music. It’s one of the reasons we have such fine DC military bands. Musicians are forced into the work where they are soldiers first and musicians second, but there they have no choice since there are so few jobs. (Cue patriotic/militaristic bluster from the Breitbart crowd against commie liberals.)

    Common Man was premiered in 1942 and aptly named. The orchestral video is by the New York Phil. The first woman didn’t enter the orchestra until 27 years later.

    Here’s a video of “The Promise of Living” from the Tender Land. (The video images are over the top at times, but note the music and the message.) If only the USA could return to the Rooseveltian values reflected in this wonderful music written by one of America’s greatest composers and one of American democracy’s truest champions.

  • buxtehude says:

    Horrible, just horrible.

  • Duncan says:

    Keith Emerson and ELP were always very entertaining and Emerson was quite virtuosic in his playing. I know that Bernstein hated Emerson’s version of ‘America’ but I don’t know what Copland thought of the ‘Common Man’ arrangement. I always thought the rocked-up versions of classics were pretty harmless, often entertaining and sometimes just really good and clever. I know some people got quite hot under the collar about such versions, but I took the view that even if only one listener was drawn into listening to the original versions then it was worth it. Each to their own after all.

    • William Safford says:

      Copland liked them.

      “The interesting thing… was that we had to get the permission of Aaron Copland, the composer. The publishing house said forget it. So I got Mr Copland’s home number, called him up and he was very friendly on the phone. And he says “Send it to me, let me listen.” And he loved it. He called me and said ‘This is brilliant, this is fantastic. This is doing something to my music.'”

      There’s more:,_Lake_%26_Palmer_song)

      You can click through to the citations.

      • Richard Zencker says:

        These citations are largely from ELP sources… but in fact the BBC interview quoted largely agrees with what I heard from him… he was flattered to have the attention, but he couldn’t quite appreciate all the improvisation in the middle.

  • D** says:

    For me, this is Copland at his best. It’s a wonderful tune, music that continues to inspire almost 80 years after it was written. The Fanfare has certainly stood the test of time.

    It hasn’t been mentioned yet, but Copland showed his genius by the way he used this material in the final movement of the third symphony. When the flutes enter with the melody, minus the percussion, it’s an incredible moment not easily forgotten.

  • jack says:

    Of course, this work could be substituted, on today’s august occasion, with something by Charpentier or Lully. Might be more accurate.

  • Richard Zencker says:

    I had a chance once to ask Aaron Copland what he thought of the ELP version. He didn’t really like it… “they changed it…”

  • david walker says:

    The Fanfare for the Common Man is not a White House commission. In “42 Eugene Goossens and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra commissioned ten composers to write fanfares. It was premiered by Goossens and Cincinnati SO in “43 — the other nine – spread over the season — have not held the boards.

  • fflambeau says:

    I like the President’s Own Band version. I also recognize some of the same faces (lead trumpet player, for instance) who performed at Biden’s inauguration. Only problem: too much gold braid on the conductor especially for this “common man” theme; he could open a shop and sell yards of it from his own uniform.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Last night our classical FM station broadcast Bernstein’s record of Copland’s third symphony, which has his favorite intervals and echoes of “Fanfare for the Common Man”, also loads of percussion imitating gunfire like Shostakovich. I at once thought of this discussion. å few days ago they had played “Quiet City”.