Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman
3 trumpets, 4 horns, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion
Composed 1987. First performance: 10 January 1987. Houston Symphony. Hans Vonk, conductor.
Joan Tower is considered by New Yorker magazine as “one of the most successful female composers of all time.” This assertion can be experienced through her bold and energetic compositions for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, and symphonic orchestras. Each of Tower’s compositions highlights unique and vibrant energy that is both captivating and enriching. Tower’s pieces reflect her distinct style in her collected works, including tone poems, instrumental works, and string quartets.
Tower was born and raised in New York but moved to Bolivia at a young age for her father’s work and study as a mineralogist. While residing in Bolivia, she was exposed to the complex, jagged, and intricate polyrhythms affiliated with the South American country. Her father’s work in mineralogy influenced her later rhythmically-active works like _Black Topaz _(1976) and _Silver Ladders _(1986). Tower moved back to the US to study composition at Columbia University, earning a doctoral degree. After concluding her studies, Tower co-founded the Da Capo Chamber Players with two colleagues, performing as the ensemble’s pianist. She received a multitude of commissions from institutions ranging from the Milwaukee Ballet and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York City to showcase her dynamic and energetic qualities.
Joan Tower’s early works reflect the typical conventions of twelve-tone serialism. Twelve-tone composers often gravitate towards new fields of study to broaden melodic possibilities. Tower followed a similar approach in the later half of her composing life, studying the works of Olivier Messiaen and George Crumb. Both Messiaen and Crumb wrote pieces that reflected a colorful tone language through a modernist lens—a facet that deeply influenced Tower and her recent compositions.
A work that exemplifies these later characteristics is Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. This work for orchestra began taking shape in the 1960s and took nearly 30 years to complete. During the 1960s, the music industry was overwhelmingly male-dominated. Nevertheless, she persisted, moving on to forge a path for future female composers to find their own voices. Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman is a gender-based reflection of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, using nearly the same instrumentation except for added percussion. Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman is separated into six distinct “parts.” The first part was composed in 1987 and features a bombastic opening statement that is driven by percussion with leaping and galloping rhythms. Part 2 introduces conversational elements between the brass and the wind voices. The third part, written in 1991 as a commission by Carnegie Hall to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the venue, is the longest and segues into a meditative and reflective mood. The brass takes a reprieve in Part 4, and the orchestra leads but retains the vibrant energy. The brass returns in Part 5, returning the listener to the energy heard in earlier parts. Part 6 has the entire orchestra continue the grandiloquent quality to finish the Fanfare.
Joan Tower currently serves as Asher B. Edelman Professor of Music at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
notes by Dr. Philip Hoch
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