What is a fanfare?

Essentially, a fanfare means a short, loud piece of music played to introduce the arrival of someone important - or a special event. It consists of a flourish of trumpets, or other brass instruments. Percussion is also often used. Webster's Dictionary defines a fanfare as "a flourish of trumpets, a showy outward display."


As well as that ceremonial meaning, 'fanfare' also has a more figurative meaning. This meaning probably has its roots in the late 15th-century Spanish word fanfa, meaning 'vaunting'. It may also derive from the Arabic word anfar ('trumpets'). Whatever its origins, the word 'fanfare' first occurred in the English language in 1605.

A fanfare should not be confused with The Last Post, a moving tune performed at military funerals and remembrance services. The Last Post is played on the bugle, a simple brass instrument without valves. The Last Post was played at the funeral of Prince Philip, Elizabeth's husband, as the latter had enjoyed a distinguished military career.

What is the herald trumpet, the instrument a fanfare is played on?

A fanfare is often played on a dedicated fanfare trumpet, which may also be referred to as a herald trumpet. This specialised instrument is similar to a normal trumpet, but longer. As well as being able to play specially composed fanfares, the fanfare trumpet's extra length allows for the attachment of ceremonial banners.

Has there been or will there be a fanfare for the Queen?

Fanfares have been a feature of the period of mourning. For example, a trumpet fanfare was played as Queen Elizabeth's coffin was carried into St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh for a 24-hour vigil on Monday 12 September.

What are some of the best-known fanfares?

Yes, in fact, the fanfare has been given a few different interpretations by classical composers. Undoubtedly the most famous of these is Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. We selected this beautiful piece as one of our best pieces of music for Independence Day. Other composers to try their hand at a fanfare include:

Arthur Bliss, in his role as Master of the Queen's Music, wrote a series of Royal Fanfares for the marriage of HRH Princess Margaret in Westminster Abbey on 6th May 1960. However, these were not the only fanfares composed by Bliss: others included 'Greetings to a City', for three brass choirs.

Paul Dukas, most famous for his orchestral magnum opus The Sorcerer's Apprentice, composed a fanfare for his ballet 'La Péri' in 1912. In fact, Dukas' fanfare proved far more popular than the ballet itself.

Benjamin Britten. In 1959 the great twentieth-century British composer Britten wrote a Fanfare for St Edmundsbury: a flourish for three trumpets, written for a Magna Carta Pageant at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds.

French composer André Jolivet produced many works for trumpet - including the fanfare 'Narcisse', written for a production of Britannicus by Jean Racine at Paris' Comédie Francaise theatre.

In 1942-43, Richard Strauss composed the Festmusik der Stadt Wien - ceremonial music for the city of Vienna. The programme includes an impressive fanfare for the city of Vienna Trumpet Choir.

Sir Harrison Birtwistle composed a fanfare to mark the Royal opening of Tate Modern in 2000. The opening ceremony was attended by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.


Photo: Getty Images


Steve Wright
Steve WrightMulti-Platform Content Producer, BBC Music Magazine

Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.