Born in Marseille, Henri Tomasi began music lessons early, and played piano professionally in hotels, restaurants, and cabarets as a teenager. He entered the Paris Conservatoire late, however, delayed by World War I. While there he won a Prix de Rome for a cantata and the first prize in orchestral conducting; conducting and composition would retain almost equal place in his activities throughout his career.
Tomasi wrote these fanfares (originally Fanfares concertantes) as part of his opera Don Juan de Mañara; they were premiered in concert in 1947 in Monte Carlo, where Tomasi had just become conductor of the opera, and published in 1952, although the opera was not premiered until 1956 (in Munich).
The first fanfare blazes to immediate life, but a somber lyric section follows, with a brief recall of the brilliant opening at the end. The second is statelier, with prominent timpani; a dramatic solo trombone recitative takes over, leading to a solemn close. The horsemen of the apocalypse gallop with a menacing edge, at a confident, aggressive pace.
The suitably theatrical final fanfare, as long as the other three combined, comes from a scene in the opera that takes place in Seville during a Holy Week procession, when a heavenly voice sings to Miguel Mañara, lifting his spirits (he was depressed by the death of his wife). It begins in percussive mystery, and gradually grows in dynamics and intensity under the impassioned pleading of the Spirit of Heaven, as the procession approaches. It fades into calm for an ardent chorale, over which the voice soars again, concluding in a spiritual ecstasy that reminds us of Tomasi’s abiding interest in medieval religious music.