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Top Five Fanfares

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Hot Air, our month-long celebration of woodwind and brass sections on WQXR, might as well be called a fanfare for these instruments. What could be more fitting than celebrating their contributions to music than with fanfares, which the American Heritage dictionary defines as a flourish of brass instruments?

1. Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man was commissioned as one of a series of 18 Fanfares for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s 1942-43 season. Each piece honored a part of the American War effort. Though composers such as Virgil Thomson and William Grant Still contributed pieces, only Copland’s remains in the current repertory. Boosey & Hawkes, the musical publisher, call it the most famous American fanfare except for Hail to the Chief.

2. J.J. Mouret wrote Sinfonies de Fanfares in the early 18th century, but it took a 20th century invention, BBC’s Masterpiece Theatre, to popularize his work -- or at least the Rondeau. The complete set of four fanfares haven’t achieved the same level of fame.

3. Janacek spoke of his Sinfonietta as a military symphony. It grew out of a set of fanfares he was commissioned to compose for a gymnastics competition called the Sokol slet. The first movement is appropriately titled Fanfares and is scored for trumpets, tubas and timpani.

4. Technically it’s called the Triumphal March or Grand March, but the horn arrangement accompanying Radamess' victorious return to Egypt in Verdi’s opera Aida is essentially a fanfare. The music is not just a showpiece for the trumpet section, but also houses' set designers, costumers, animal wranglers, chorus and supernumeraries.

5. John Adams calls Short Ride in a Fast Machine a fanfare for orchestra. Then he explained his title with a question: “You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn’t?” Though it contains the same minimalist devices found in his operas and larger works, it maintains a breakneck pace and exudes energy with help from a wood block and a blaring brass section.