Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Sleigh Riding with Leroy Anderson

Around Christmas every year Leroy Anderson has his time to shine once more. Even if people don't know his name they'll know his Sleigh Ride and Christmas Festival. This year I decided I wanted to know what else he did. It turns out quite a lot and all with a wonderful sense of fun and invention.

You can find out about his biography on the official Leroy Anderson website, but the important point here was he was picked up by Arthur Fiedler as a skilful arranger and was then asked to write original works. Fiedler was head of the Boston Pops Orchestra at the time and Anderson became a key composer for the group.

Most of his works are orchestral miniatures just like Sleigh Ride, and also like that piece they make use of percussion and other instruments to suggest elements of sound associated with the piece. Sleigh Ride has the bells of the sleigh and the suggestion of the clip-clopping of the horse's hooves. This live video of John Williams conducting the BPO in it shows the clashing of two planks for effect.

The Syncopated Clock has the sound of the clock running as an underscore all through it and in The Waltzing Cat the string section does a wonderful 'meow' effect which is right up there with the braying donkey in Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream. This video has Anderson explaining that effect and how he comes up with lyrics to his miniatures.

Anderson took this idea further in his piece Typewriter, which does have a typewriter as the solo instrument. To work out not only the tune, but the timing so it never ran out of paper or overshot the line, is an impressive piece of work.

He made one attempt at what would be called 'serious' classical music as opposed to the miniatures. That is his Piano Concerto in C, not a well-known piece by any means but apparently played fairly often (according to his official website). I've only listened to the first movement so far and it's a nice piece and worth some attention but I don't think it will ever become a front line concerto.

But for his invention and the sheer joy in his music Anderson deserves a lot of respect and I recommend exploring his work, even if it is just on YouTube which has a fair amount of it floating about. Enjoy the ride.

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