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Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

What are some of the differences between a fanfare and a theme song?

Asked by Imadethisupwithnoforethought (14664points) October 30th, 2011

Furthermore, how are they both differentiated from a Leitmotif?

I got in a muddled discussion with my daughter today while discussing music, and if anyone could assist me with some clear demarcations it would be appreciated.

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14 Answers

JilltheTooth's avatar

Aw, bloody hell, @Imadethisupwithnoforethought , I would have just said something about trumpets and stuff if you hadn’t thrown in that twist about a leit motif. Now I’m just confused.

SavoirFaire's avatar

A leitmotif is a recurring musical idea that is always associated with some particular thing (a person, a place, or an idea). It need not be a complete piece of music on its own, but rather can be a short phrase or even just an instrument (e.g., when a character is always accompanied by the oboe and the oboe never plays when the character is not present).

Unlike leitmotifs, fanfares and theme songs are always complete musical works. A fanfare is typically short and used primarily for introductions. A theme song is longer and may be used in association with a particular show or character, but need not be for an introduction. It may come up, for instance, when a character is doing something important or when the show has reached a particularly important moment.

All of these are different from a signature tune, which is a piece of music strongly associated with a performer.

XOIIO's avatar

A theme song is what the person would be recognized by, a fanfare is an introduction/announcement of their arrival.

In horror movies, or comedied the leitmotif would sortof be a transition, like in seinfeld.

lillycoyote's avatar

The two are not mutually exclusive, and fanfares are usually played on brass instruments. And fanfare can be used as a theme song, and often is on Television. The CBS Golf theme is a fanfare, for example.

And @SavoirFaire, I don’t believe it is correct that a fanfare is always a separate piece of music. The first movement of Strauss’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra opens with what has since become one of the world’s most famous fanfares.

And, a “theme song” can contain a fanfare. The theme song from the original Star Trek series begins with a fanfare, though it’s the part where William Shatner’s voice over is so it’s a little hard to hear. I couldn’t find a version without the voice over.

Anyway, it can get confusing. A fanfare is a pretty specifically defined thing. A “theme song” is really a more modern term and is something associated with a film or television show, really. A “theme” in music a different thing than a “theme song.” Does that clear anything up?

wundayatta's avatar

@SavoirFaire Good job on your answer. I have a question, though. I agree that theme songs are complete works, but it seems to me that fanfares can be part of a larger work, as well as standing on their own. I know I’ve played many fanfares to start a piece, but then the rest of the piece is completely different. Are you sure about fanfares being complete pieces on their own?

lillycoyote's avatar

And I forgot about leitmotif. Britannica has a pretty good answer so I will send you there.

Britannica leitmotif entry

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

@lillycoyote, and others. the Superman Theme, do you believe that to be a Fanfare, or a Theme Song?

(I am getting the Lietmotif thing I think now, thanks so far folks.)

lillycoyote's avatar

As I mentioned earlier, the two, fanfare and theme song are not mutually exclusive. The Superman theme would be, I think a theme song that begins, opens, with a fanfare. On your video, the fanfare ends at about 1:15. It begins the theme, but it is not separate from it. It part of the whole. Music is made of pieces that come together to form a whole. Some musical terms can be very vague. Some types of music are more narrowly defined. I am not an expert on music theory or music history, so I was trying to find some list of characteristics that make something a fanfare, other than just saying “you’ll know it when you hear it” or “if John Williams wrote it, there’s going to be a fanfare in there somewhere” and these apparently are some of the characteristics of a fanfare (Source):

Volume

Fanfares are nearly always played fortissimo, or loud. Since the objective of the music is to command attention, volume and power are important factors. Historically, fanfares were played at hunts and coronation ceremonies before hundreds or thousands of spectators. In the days before electric amplification of sound, the music had to be loud enough to cut through the audience noise and announce the event was about to begin.

Orchestration

The lead melody line in a fanfare is carried by the brass, particularly trumpets, coronets and bugles. The trombone, tuba and French horn are also employed heavily to accentuate the rhythm. Some fanfares may feature a solo passage played by one of these lower-range brass instruments for effect. Drums and percussion are meant to keep the tempo moving steadily forward, such as in military marches where the cadence is set for a fast-paced walk.

Features

Fanfares contrast passages using the harmonic series, usually in the lower register, with stepwise movement, usually in the higher register. They are usually played in major scales. The strong rhythmic character of a fanfare often employs repeated rhythms -semi-quavers, dotted rhythms and triplets – and repeated notes at the same pitch. Imitative, contrapuntal textures are contrasted with rhythmic chordal passages.

Don’t ask me what “Imitative, contrapuntal textures are contrasted with rhythmic chordal passages” means, because I don’t know. :-)

One of my favorite modern composers is Aaron Copeland and one of my favorite of his compositions is a fanfare and one that is a basically a complete, self contained composition in and of itself.

Fanfare for the Common Man

You listen to enough of these, you will know exactly what a fanfare is. A theme song is simply a song or any piece of music associated with a particular tv show or movie or even a person. It’s a relatively modern term and can really be any kind of music at all, it just needs to be associated with those particular things.

I’m done. I may even be right, there’s always a chance. :-)

lillycoyote's avatar

And just because I’m a dog with a bone here….

A good modern example is the score of Titanic. My Heart Will Go On is the film’s theme song, but the melody, from theme is used throughout the film as Rose’s theme, her leitmotif, and is associated with her, and her and Jack, throughout the film, three examples:

One

Two

Three

Sorry, I know you said you got leitmotif, but I found a really good example!

I’m really done now!

SavoirFaire's avatar

@lillycoyote I agree that fanfares and theme songs need not be mutually exclusive (one could be used as the other), but I will somewhat hold the line on it being a separate piece of music. Now, Also sprach Zarathustra is a tone poem; and, strictly speaking, tone poems do not have movements. So while the easy option for me might have been to claim that movements are, in a sense, complete on their own—which does seem like a fair and plausible claim to make—that would not work in the present case.

What I am going to say, then, is that the opening section of Also sprach Zarathustra—which is written very much like a separate movement, even if it is technically not a separate movement—did not become a fanfare until it was taken out of its original context and used as a separate piece of music. So maybe the important distinction is that it is separable (at least in principle) and introductory (something not required of a leitmotif).

We get into difficult areas the more a piece of music tries to tell a story. A tone poem might tell the story of a king who is always introduced by a fanfare. What is the playing of that fanfare within the tone poem itself? Perhaps it could even be a leitmotif! Here, I think, we have to understand that the definitions of these things are general, and that clever artists are capable of subverting any boundary one tries to draw around them.

@wundayatta See above. It does seem correct to say that many pieces begin with what could be called a fanfare or something that is fanfare-like. As such, I will suggest that a fanfare should be separable in principle (as the opening of Also sprach Zarathustra has been separated to make it the fanfare for the opening of a film). And again, I will state that artists will always be capable of confounding definitions.

Fair enough?

lillycoyote's avatar

@SavoirFaire The fanfare is something that has evolved over time. Also sprach Zarathustra is just one example and is not necessarily representative of or necessarily the one piece that should define the characteristics of all fanfares. I am not going to argue with you on this one. I am not an expert. At this point, one this one, I am going have to consult my musical “cabinet.” They should be able to give me good counsel. And knowing them, the will be either happy to tell me that I am right or more than happy to explain to me why and how I am wrong. :-) I will get back to you.

Theremin's avatar

@SavoirFaire I like your answer, but I think the term “fanfare” has been the subject of some definitional drift. In a music history class, your definition would be spot on. Everything else would be called “fanfare-like” or a reference to the fanfare form. I think what we’re all getting caught up on is the idea of “completeness.” You’re right that, unlike a leitmotif, a fanfare should be complete in itself. But I don’t think that means it has to be a complete work—at least not anymore. So I would rewrite your answer this way:

—————————————————————————————————————————————

A leitmotif is a recurring musical idea that is always associated with some particular thing (a person, a place, or an idea). It need not be a complete piece of music on its own, but rather can be a short phrase or even just an instrument (e.g., when a character is always accompanied by the oboe and the oboe never plays when the character is not present).

Unlike leitmotifs, fanfares and theme songs are always self-contained. A fanfare is typically short and used primarily for introductions. It can be a separate work, or a clearly defined part of a larger work used to introduce a movement or even an entire piece. A theme song is always a separate work in itself. It is longer and may be used in association with a particular show or character, but need not be for an introduction. It may come up, for instance, when a character is doing something important or when the show has reached a particularly important moment.

All of these are different from a signature tune, which is a piece of music strongly associated with a performer.

—————————————————————————————————————————————

Is that agreeable?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Theremin I like it! I hereby abandon my version of the answer in favor of yours.

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