Composers Datebook®

A Fanfare for JFK

Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990) — Fanfare for JFK ()

Composer's Datebook - 20220119


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January 19, 2022


When boomers wax nostalgic about the Kennedy Administration, it’s Lerner & Loewe’s musical “Camelot” they start to hum. After all, “Camelot” opened in 1960 just a month after John F. Kennedy was elected, and, a week after his assassination in 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy told historian Theodore H. White that they owned the original cast album and liked to play it before retiring at night. She quoted a phrase—"one brief shining moment"—from “Camelot’s title song as how she wished his presidency to be remembered.

But early in 1961, everyone was looking forward, not backwards. The President-elect had asked Frank Sinatra to help arrange a musical gala to be held on January 19, 1961, the eve of his Inauguration, and Leonard Bernstein was tapped to represent classical music. Bernstein had known Kennedy since the mid-1950s, and, after all, they both were Harvard men.

As luck would have it, a rare blizzard hit Washington D.C. that night, snarling traffic, and a police escort had to rush Bernstein to the Gala. There was no time for him to change into formal attire, so Bernstein appeared onstage in a hastily-borrowed and much-too-large dress shirt to conduct the world premiere of his “Fanfare for JFK.”

After the premiere of his “Fanfare,” Bernstein conducted a more familiar wind band standard—Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

Music Played in Today's Program

Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990) — Fanfare for JFK ()

On This Day


  • 1903 - German composer Boris Blacher, in Niu-chang, China;

  • 1936 - American composer Elliott Schwartz, in Brooklyn;


  • 1576 - German "mastersinger" Hans Sachs, age 81, in Nuremberg;


  • 1674 - Lully: opera "Alceste," in Paris at the Palais Royal Opéra;

  • 1735 - Handel: opera "Ariodante" (Julian date: Jan. 8);

  • 1787 - Mozart: Symphony No. 38 ("Prague"), conducted by the composer, in Prague;

  • 1853 - Verdi: opera, "Il trovatore," (The Troubador), in Rome the Teatro Apollo;

  • 1873 - Saint-Saëns: Cello Concerto No. 1, in Paris;

  • 1884 - Massenet: opera, "Manon," at the Opéra-Comique, Paris;

  • 1895 - Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 3 (1st movement only), posthumously, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Jan.7);

  • 1898 - Glazunov: ballet "Raymonda," in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Jan. 7);

  • 1924 - Auric: ballet "Les Fâcheux," by the Diaghilev company in Monte Carlo;

  • 1948 - Douglas Moore: "Farm Journal" for chamber orchestra, in New York City;

  • 1953 - Bernstein: musical "Wonderful Town," as a trial run in New Haven at the Schubert Theater, choreographed by Donald Saddler, directed by George Abbott, conducted by Lehman Engel; The show opened in New York City at the Winter Garden on February 26, 1953;

  • 1961 - Bernstein: "Fanfare," at the Inaugural Gala for President John F. Kennedy, in Washington, D.C.;

  • 1969 - Ligeti: "Ten Pieces" for woodwind quintet, in Malmö, Sweden;

  • 1970 - Shulamit Ran: "O, the Chimneys," in New York City;

  • 1986 - Babbitt: Piano Concerto, in New York;

  • 1990 - Peter Maxwell Davies: "Strathclyde Concerto" No. 3 for horn, trumpet and orchestra, at Glasgow's City Hall, by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer, with soloists Robert Cook and Peter Franks;

  • 1994 - John Adams: Violin Concerto, with Minnesota Orchestra, Edo de Waart conducting and Jorja Fleezanis the soloist;

  • 1996 - David Ward-Steinman: "Prisms and Reflections," for piano (and piano interior), by David Burge, at the Music Teachers National Association meeting in San Diego;


  • 1962 - White House dinner party in honor of Igor Stravinsky hosted by President and Mrs. Kennedy.

  • 1973 - Leonard Bernstein leads a performance of Haydn's "Mass in Time of War" at a "Concert for Peace" at Washington DC's National Cathedral, with members of National Symphony, in protest against President Nixon, on the eve of Nixon's second term in office; The concert was timed to coincide with Nixon's official inaugural concert, which concluded with Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture";

  • 1977 - Leonard Bernstein conducts his song "Take Care of This House" at Inaugural Concert for President Jimmy Carter at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. with Frederica von Stade as vocal soloist with the National Symphony.