Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman

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Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman is a series of six short compositions, or “parts” of one 25-minute composition, by Joan Tower. Parts I, II, III and V are scored for brass, Parts IV and VI for full orchestra. The score for the whole series includes 3 trumpets, 4 horns, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, 2 bass drums, 5 cymbals, 2 gongs, tam-tam, tom-toms, the triangle, glockenspiel, marimba, and chimes. Tower wrote Part I in 1987, Part VI twenty-nine years later, in 2016.[1] Along the way, in 2014, the series was added to the National Recording Registry, having been judged “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”


Joan Tower began composing music in the 1960s, at a time when the male-dominated music world followed the composition standards of post-World War II Europe. She is among the generation of female American composers credited with creating her own voice and leading the way for later generations.[2]


The first and most popular of the Fanfares was commissioned by the Houston Symphony as part of the orchestra's Fanfare Project and was composed in 1986. It debuted on January 10, 1987, with the Houston Symphony conducted by Hans Vonk. It was originally inspired by Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and employs the same instrumentation while adding the glockenspiel, marimba, chimes, and drums. The piece is about 2 minutes and 41 seconds long and is dedicated to the conductor Marin Alsop.[3] It contains an opening flourish, huge percussion strokes, and then a galloping rhythm that pushes through the rest of the piece to reach the conclusion.

The second Fanfare was written in 1989 and uses the same instrumentation as the first while adding percussion. It was commissioned by Absolut Vodka and premiered at the Lincoln Center in 1989. It was performed by the Orchestra of Saint Luke and is about 3 minutes and 23 seconds long.[4]

The third Fanfare was written in 1991 and was commissioned by Carnegie Hall in commemoration of its 100th anniversary. It premiered on May 5, 1991, and was performed by the Empire Brass and members of the New York Philharmonic brass section. The conductor was Zubin Mehta and it is about 5 minutes and 15 seconds long. It is laid out on a larger scale than the others and gradually moves from quiet lyricism to full-ensemble chords before slowing down into a final coda.

The fourth Fanfare was written in 1992 and was the only one in the series scored for full orchestra where the brass does not dominate. However, its propulsive rhythms and sheer energy qualify it as a fanfare. The piece was commissioned by the Kansas City Symphony, and premiered on October 16, 1992, conducted by William McGlaughlin. The piece is about 4 minutes and 35 seconds long.[5]

The fifth Fanfare was written in 1993 and was commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival for the opening of the Joan and Irving Harris Concert Hall in 1993. It is approximately 3 minutes long.

The sixth Fanfare was written in 2016 for full orchestra, commissioned for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.


The Fanfares have been performed worldwide by over 500 ensembles. They are a tribute to women who were risk-takers and adventurers. The whole work was eventually recorded by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Tower dedicated the piece to the conductor of the recordings, Marin Alsop.[6]


  1. ^ Stockton Symphony Association. 14 Feb. 2008<>.
  2. ^ Duffie, Bruce. Interview with Joan Tower by Bruce Duffie. Apr. 1987. 15 Feb. 2008 <>.
  3. ^ Tower, Joan (1986). "Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman". G. Schirmer Inc. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
  4. ^ Stockton Symphony Association. 14 Feb. 2008 <>.
  5. ^ The Contemporary Youth Orchestra. 14 Feb. 2008 < Archived 2008-01-31 at the Wayback Machine>.
  6. ^ Duffie, Bruce. Interview with Joan Tower by Bruce Duffie. Apr. 1987. 15 Feb. 2008 <>.