Fanfare for Full Fathom Five

Brass, Wind Ensemble/3'/Difficulty - Hard/2015

for 6 trumpets, 6 horns, 6 trombones (3 tenor, 3 bass; or 3 tenor, 2 bass, 1 contrabass), 2 tubas, and 4 percussionists, with optional organ

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Columbus State University Wind Ensemble
conducted by Jamie L. Nix

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Fanfare for Full Fathom Five” takes its title from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” where Shakespeare’s text refers to a drowning during a storm and shipwreck in water about five fathoms (30 feet) deep:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes; Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

– William Shakespeare, The Tempest: I.2.396-401.

In The Tempest, this rather foreboding and gloomy text is sung by the tormented spirit Ariel to the young prince of Naples, Ferdinand, who has just escaped a shipwreck caused by the eponymous storm and is unaware of whether his father — the King, Alonso — has survived. In reality, Ariel’s dire taunt proves to be somewhat inaccurate, but
his song has a place in the English lexicon partly due to two phrases which have entered common usage: “full fathom five,” a nautical reference that indicates a placement under a depth of thirty feet of water but is used metaphorically to imply an impossible and unavoidable doom; and “sea-change,” which describes an unexpected and profound transformation. Both of these images, along with the backdrop of a tumultuous squall, paint the musical language of John Mackey’s Fanfare for Full Fathom Five.

The fanfare is scored for an athletic array of brass and percussion: six trumpets (deliberately split into two quasi-antiphonal trios), six horns, three tenor trombones, three bass trombones, two tubas, and four percussion, with an ad libitum organ and the possible substitution of contrabass trombone. The orchestration and architecture of the piece is designed to be analogous to Richard Strauss’ Wiener Philharmoniker Fanfare, but where Strauss’ fanfare is emotionally straightforward with bounds of unstoppable heroism, Mackey’s is more complex, taking the traditional fanfare rhythms and motifs and blurring them with a whirlwind of dissonance through chromaticism and murky glissandi that present the whole in a darker and more sinister context. All of the typical hallmarks of the fanfare genre are present: vibrantly articulated triplets in the trumpets, soaring horn lines, and brash pedal points in the low brass (doubled colorfully by the organ). The harmonic language is one of abrupt shift; the blustery opening seems to clearly establish B-flat major as the home key, but each time it seems to reaffirm this notion, it veers wildly into unexpected territory. The piece ends triumphantly in E-flat, but along the way it also takes detouring ventures through D-flat, G-flat, and perhaps most strangely, E major during the work’s contrastingly delicate midpoint. In the end, despite a journey that is continuously rich and strange, the heroes win the day and, as in The Tempest, all comes to a happy and victorious conclusion.


– program note by Jake Wallace
(please credit Jake Wallace when reproducing program note)


March 26, 2015

Columbus State University Wind Ensemble, conducted by Jamie L. Nix
in Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, Tennessee,
as part of the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA)
National Convention.

Commissioned by

Columbus State University

With additional funding from:
Arizona State University
Georgia State University
Louisiana State University
Oklahoma State University
University of California Los Angeles
University of Florida
University of Oregon
Western Michigan University