A fanfare (or fanfarade or flourish) is a short musical flourish that is typically played by trumpets or other brass instruments, often accompanied by percussion (Tarr 2001). It is a "brief improvised introduction to an instrumental performance" (Griffiths 2004). A fanfare has also been defined as "a musical announcement played on brass instruments before the arrival of an important person", such as heralding the entrance of a monarch (Lloyd 1968, 172). Historically, fanfares were usually played by trumpet players, as the trumpet was associated with royalty (Lloyd 1968, 172). Bugles are also mentioned (Davidson 1907). The melody notes of a fanfare are often based around the major triad, often using "[h]eroic dotted rhythms" (Lloyd 1968, 172).

By extension, the term may also designate a short, prominent passage for brass instruments in an orchestral composition. Fanfares are widely used in opera orchestral parts, notably in Wagner's Tannhauser and Lohengrin and in Beethoven's Fidelio. In Fidelio, the dramatic use of the fanfare is heightened by having the trumpet player perform offstage, which creates a muted effect. A fanfare is a short, showy, piece of music usually played for a special event. It is often played to announce the arrival of an important person, such as a king, queen or presidential leader. Fanfares are usually played by trumpets or French horns and other brass instruments, often with drums.


The word has been traced to a 15th-century Spanish root, fanfa ("vaunting"). Though the word may be onomatopoeic, it is also possible that it is derived from the Arabic word fanfáre ("trumpets"). The word is first found in 1546 in French, and in English in 1605, but it was not until the 19th century that it acquired its present meaning of a brief ceremonial flourish for brass (Tarr 2001). Indeed, an alternative term for the fanfare is "flourish", as in the "Ruffles and Flourishes" played by military bands in the US to announce the arrival of the President, a general, or other high-ranking dignitary (Randel 2003). "In the England of Shakespeare's time", fanfares "were often known as flourishes and sometimes as "tickets" (a word related to toccata) (Lloyd 1968, 172).


In French usage, fanfare also may refer to a hunting signal (given either on "starting" a stag, or after the kill when the hounds are given their share of the animal). In both France and Italy, fanfare was the name given in the 19th century to a military or civilian brass band (Tarr 2001). In French, this usage continues to the present, and distinguishes the all-brass band from bands of mixed brass and woodwind, which is called Harmonie (Kennedy 2006). Fanfares have been imitated in art music as early as the 14th century. Examples in opera include a fanfare for the governor's arrival in Beethoven's Fidelio, act 2. In the 20th century, well-known composed fanfares include Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man (1942), for brass and percussion, and Igor Stravinsky's Fanfare for a New Theatre (1964), for two trumpets (Baines and Bellingham 2002; Randel 2003).

Copland's Fanfare is one of a series of 18 commissioned by Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conductor Eugene Goossens in 1942–43, each to open a concert. Each was to salute an aspect of the war effort; the U.S. had entered World War II the previous year. The only one of these fanfares to become well known is Copland's; the others are rarely if ever performed or recorded. The set, with the date of the concert at which each was performed, is (Anon. n.d.):

  • 1. A Fanfare for Airmen, Bernard Wagenaar, Oct. 9, 1942
  • 2. A Fanfare for Russia, Deems Taylor, Oct. 16, 1942.
  • 3. A Fanfare for the Fighting French, Walter Piston, Oct. 23, 1942.
  • 4. A Fanfare to the Forces of our Latin-American Allies, Henry Cowell, Oct. 30, 1942. (Recorded.)
  • 5. A Fanfare for Friends, Daniel Gregory Mason, Nov. 6, 1942.
  • 6. A Fanfare for Paratroopers, Paul Creston, Nov. 27, 1942.
  • 7. Fanfare de la Liberté, Darius Milhaud, Dec. 11, 1942.
  • 8. A Fanfare for American Heroes, William Grant Still, Dec. 18, 1942.
  • 9. Fanfare for France, Virgil Thomson, Jan. 15, 1943.
  • 10. Fanfare for Freedom, Morton Gould, Jan. 22, 1943. (Recorded.)
  • 11. Fanfare for Airmen, Leo Sowerby, Jan. 29, 1943. (Recorded.)
  • 12. Fanfare for Poland, Harl McDonald, Feb. 5, 1943.
  • 13. Fanfare for the Medical Corps, Anis Fuleihan, Feb. 26, 1943.
  • 14. Fanfare for the American Soldier, Felix Borowski, March 5, 1943.
  • 15. Fanfare for the Common Man, Aaron Copland, March 12, 1943. (Many recordings. Incorporated into Copland’s Symphony No. 3.)
  • 16. Fanfare for the Signal Corps, Howard Hanson, April 2, 1943.
  • 17. Fanfare for the Merchant Marine, Eugene Goossens, April 16, 1943.
  • 18. Fanfare for Commandos, Bernard Rogers, Feb. 20, 1943.


  • Anon. n.d. "Goosens Fanfares". Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra website (accessed July 30, 2018).
  • Baines, Anthony, and Jane Bellingham. 2002. "Fanfare". The Oxford Companion to Music, edited by Alison Latham. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-866212-9.
  • Davidson, Thomas. 1907. "Fanfare". Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language. London and Edinburgh: W. & R. Chambers, Limited.
  • Griffiths, Paul. 2004. The Penguin Companion to Classical Music. London and New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780141909769 (electronic book).
  • Kennedy, Michael. 2006. "Fanfare". The Oxford Dictionary of Music, second edition, revised. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-861459-3.
  • Lloyd, Norman. 1968. "Fanfare". The Golden Encyclopedia of Music. New York: Golden Press. Library of Congress Number 68-17169.
  • Randel, Don Michael. 2003. "Fanfare". The Harvard Dictionary of Music, fourth edition. Harvard University Press Reference Library 16. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01163-2.
  • Tarr, Edward H. 2001. "Fanfare". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
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