Fanfare for American War Heroes
3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, strings
notes by Katherine Baber
Composed 1942. First performance: December 18, 1942, Cincinnati. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Eugene Goossens, conductor.
The Fanfare for Fallen Heroes, composed during World War II and dedicated “in memorial of the colored soldiers who died for democracy,” gives us a window onto the musical and political world that Bernstein was just stepping into at the time. William Grant Still was a member of a generation of populist American composers, including Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, and Virgil Thomson, who were in search of a modern, but still tonal and accessible, American language. As a composer, Bernstein would continue that search. Still and Bernstein were also united in the pursuit of “Double Victory”—victory against fascism abroad and against racism at home. (Bernstein was a prominent ally of African American artists and political figures, like singer Paul Robeson and New York City councilman Benjamin Davis Jr.) With this musical epitaph, Still clearly and poignantly reminded his listeners that African Americans were equal in sacrifice for the cause of democracy, even as they were unequal in their access to its powers. The fanfare is a solemn one, and it serves to introduce a melody in the English horn that speaks in the pentatonic language of the African American spiritual. This is the true focus of Still’s work, not the fanfares that remain in the distance, and it serves as both a memorial and a reminder that the work is not yet done.