|Leroy Anderson, America's preeminent composer of
light concert music, wrote such lively and evocative Pops orchestral favorites as
"Sleigh Ride," "The Syncopated Clock" and "Blue Tango". His
music captures the imagination of millions of people around the world with its memorable,
optimistic melodies and impeccably crafted orchestrations.
unassuming composer was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1908, to Swedish immigrant
parents. He received his first music lessons from his mother, who was a church organist.
At age eleven he began piano and music studies at the New England Conservatory of Music.
For his high school graduation he composed, orchestrated and conducted the class song.
Anderson attended Harvard University where he received his B.A. (Magna cum laude) and M.A.
in music, studying with composers Walter Piston and
His musical interests included the double bass, trombone, tuba,
organ, arranging and conducting. He studied double bass with Gaston Dufresne of the Boston
Symphony Orchestra, and organ with Henry Gideon of Boston. At the same time he was the
organist and choirmaster of a church in Milton, Massachusetts. While a student at Harvard
he was the director of the Harvard University Band in
1929. He resumed the post from 1932 to 1935 when he began writing arrangements for the
band. Anderson's Harvard Band arrangements are held in high regard and are still played
In 1936 he was asked by George Judd,
Manager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to make an arrangement for the Boston Pops and
thus came to the attention of the Boston Pops music
director, Arthur Fiedler. Fiedler encouraged Anderson to bring
him any original works. Anderson brought his first work, "Jazz Pizzicato", to
Fiedler in 1938. Soon after that the Pops premiered it. From then on Anderson wrote a
steady stream of his miniature orchestral masterworks.
During World War II, Leroy Anderson's proficiency in German and
Scandinavian languages led him to serve in the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps. He
attained the rank of Captain, serving as Chief of the Scandinavian Desk of Military
Intelligence at the Pentagon. While at the Pentagon he wrote "Promenade" and
"The Syncopated Clock". At the end of the war he declined an offer to become the
assistant military attaché in Stockholm. Instead he continued his musical career.
In 1947 he began writing "Sleigh Ride" during a heat
wave. Completed in 1948, Sleigh Ride was not written as a Christmas piece, but rather
merely described an event that took place in winter. Nonetheless, it has since become a
Christmas classic. Mitchell Parish added lyrics in 1950.
Anderson conducted his own orchestra for Decca
Records from 1950 to 1962. His popularity as a composer was at an unprecedented high.
Never before had a symphonic composer been given an orchestra to conduct and record
freshly written music. He gave the first performances of many pieces at the same time that
they were being recorded! Many of those recordings are currently released on the MCA label
as "Sleigh Ride - The Best of Leroy Anderson" and as a 2 CD set "The Leroy
While Anderson's aim was to write light concert music to be
played by symphony orchestras, in 1952 one of his orchestral works captured the country's
fancy. "Blue Tango", a lilting instrumental with a sweeping melody, became the
"top single" of 1952. It was at the top of the Hit parade for 22 weeks and was
played in jukeboxes and on radio in the U.S. and Europe. Anderson's own recording of it
earned him a gold record, which was unprecedented for an instrumental symphonic recording.
One of the highlights of his career came in 1972 when he made a
guest appearance on Evening at Pops. This nationally
televised PBS program featured The Boston Pops Orchestra and its conductor Arthur Fiedler.
He reminisced that when he first went to a Boston Pops concert while in high school he
little knew then that years later "I would be first an arranger and orchestrator for
the concerts and then later the composer of some of the music on the programs."
While Leroy Anderson is best known for his many popular, short
pieces, he also wrote the music for the Broadway show "Goldilocks" and composed
a Piano Concerto.
Anderson composed the Piano Concerto in C in 1953 and conducted
its first performances in Chicago and Cleveland. He then withdrew the piece with the
intention of making improvements to it. Although Anderson never got around to making the
changes, his family decided to publish the work as the composer had originally written it.
Conductor Erich Kunzel and the Rochester Pops Orchestra recorded the concerto in 1988 with
Stewart Goodyear as the soloist. Canadian pianist Catherine Wilson
performed the concerto with Skitch Henderson and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in a
recording made in 1999.
Leroy Anderson wrote the music for Jean and Walter
Kerr's musical "Goldilocks" which opened on Broadway in 1958. Don Ameche and
Elaine Stritch starred in the show, which ran for 158
performances. Anderson's delightful score has been enjoyed over the years on the original
Broadway cast recording that was reissued on CD.
"A Christmas Festival" and "Irish Suite" are
favorites of many Anderson fans, including his family. Both are symphonic arrangements of
traditional music that display Leroy Anderson's distinctive musical style. They have
earned a permanent place in the repertoires of many orchestras.
The composer died in 1975 in Woodbury, Connecticut, his home of
Anderson's music is played throughout the world and has been
recorded by many symphony orchestras. There are currently twelve different
"all-Anderson" discs by such conductors as Leonard Slatkin and Frederick Fennell. "Once Upon a Sleigh Ride", a one-hour
video documentary about Leroy Anderson will be broadcast on PBS in December of 2004 (click here for local broadcasts). This excellent portrayal of the
life and music of Leroy Anderson may be purchased from Kultur.
Composer and conductor John Williams
has praised Anderson's music. Williams has said about Leroy Anderson: "Though we have
performed his works countless times over the years at the Boston Pops, his music remains
forever as young and fresh as the very first day on which it was composed."
The official Leroy Anderson web site can be found at www.leroyanderson.com.
This site was created by Kurt Anderson, General Manager of WMNR,
a public radio station in Connecticut, and one of four children of Leroy Anderson.