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ClassicsOnline Home » ANDERSON, L.: Orchestral Music, Vol. 1 - Piano Concerto in C Major / The Golden Years / Fiddle-Faddle
Leroy Anderson etched out his own unique place in American music – a composer rigorously trained in the classical tradition whose records could top the pop charts, a reclusive personality whose compositions became household words, and a meticulous craftsman who could pull one marvelous tune after another out of his hat almost at will. Here, in the first complete cycle of Anderson’s orchestral music, the Anderson family has made available several pieces that the composer did not release, with some first recordings scattered among the familiar and not-sofamiliar titles. Volume One closes with Anderson’s Piano Concerto which, since its revival in 1989, has been receiving an increasing number of performances.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Coming up is a centennial tribute concert to Leroy Anderson, the composer of instrumental pop hits Blue Tango, Sleigh Ride, Fiddle Faddle, Syncopated Clock and many more.
By David Denton
Leroy Anderson (1908-1975)
Orchestral Music • 1
Leroy Anderson etched out his own unique place in American music – a composer rigorously trained in the classical tradition whose records could top the pop charts, a reclusive personality whose compositions became household words, a meticulous craftsman who could pull one marvelous tune after another out of his hat almost at will. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1908, Anderson was a graduate of Harvard University, where he studied composition with Walter Piston and George Enescu and led the Harvard Band for a number of years. He seemed headed for a career in linguistics until a guest spot in 1936 leading the Boston Pops Orchestra in his Harvard Fantasy caught the discerning ear of Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler, who promptly asked Anderson to write some pieces for the orchestra. Following a long break during World War II, where he served in the U.S. Army as a translator of Scandinavian languages, Anderson became a regular at the Pops, crafting arrangements of popular music and contributing miniature gems of his own. Anderson's star rose to surprising heights after he was offered a recording contract of his own with Decca Records in 1950, for which he led pick-up orchestras of New York's finest symphonic musicians in best-selling albums of his own compositions. He turned to Broadway, completing the score for one show, Goldilocks, in 1958 before returning to his metier, the miniature, with one final burst of new published material in 1962. Aside from writing a few unpublished original pieces, Anderson's remaining years were spent mostly arranging and guest-conducting until his death from lung cancer in 1975.
Almost any Leroy Anderson composition has its own instantly recognizable profile, with sturdy structures, distinctive harmonies, and melodic ideas to burn. Some are nostalgic, reflective, even eloquent mini-tone poems, while others mischievously send up musical idioms or technologies of postwar American pop culture. In fact, Anderson wrote for the technology of his time; almost all of his compositions were custom-made to fit comfortably on one side of a 78 rpm (or later, 45 rpm) disc. Even when he was composing primarily for long-playing 33s, he usually stuck faithfully to the old three-or-four minute limits.
Anderson shared with Brahms and Sibelius the trait of being intensely self-critical, working for months or even years on just one three-minute piece, choosing not to publish works even after they had been performed. Here, though, in the first complete cycle of Anderson's orchestral music, the Anderson family has made available several pieces that the composer did not release – with some first recordings scattered among the familiar and not-so-familiar titles.
But first, we hear something well-known, Bugler's Holiday, the exuberant gift to show-off trumpet players everywhere. Written for the album A Leroy Anderson 'Pops' Concert in 1954, the three-part trumpet writing blazes with bravado, concluding with a fanfare that suggests a race track. Bugler's Holiday is a sequel of sorts to 1947's Fiddle-Faddle, where Anderson reverts to the idea of Paganini's perpetual-motion machine in a brilliantly manic display piece originally conceived for the Boston Pops string section (the orchestral version is played here). And Clarinet Candy from 1962 is yet another sequel, making use of that instrument's liquid properties at rapid tempos.
When Anderson's second Decca album of his compositions came out in 1951, Belle Of The Ball and Blue Tango were taken from the LP and paired together on a single. Decca thought that Belle Of The Ball, a sweeping, thoroughly American waltz suggesting a beautiful girl twirling and twirling at the dance, would be the more popular of the two. Yet it was Blue Tango, a concert piece with one graceful tune complementing another that follows the tango rhythm, that caught on beyond anyone's expectations, rocketing to No. 1 on the Hit Parade for fifteen weeks in 1952. Record labels rushed out cover versions; bandleaders such as Hugo Winterhalter and Guy Lombardo also scored hit records with it. But over time, Anderson's dignified original has outlasted all others.
Chicken Reel, one of the earliest pieces that Anderson wrote for Fiedler and the Pops after the war (though not published until 1963), sends Joseph M. Daly's 1910-vintage novelty tune through a fantasia of witty contortions. "Oh, he (Fiedler) really liked that one", Anderson once recalled. "He had only one suggestion: 'Let's put in a punch at the end', he said. 'Why don't you throw in the sound of a rooster crowing?' We worked out the ending like that. We had the clarinetist blow into the mouthpiece without the instrument to achieve the effect, and it proved to be just what was needed to make the piece right."
Performed by the Boston Pops in 1948 but never recorded by anyone until now, the Governor Bradford March (named after then-Massachusetts Gov. Robert F. Bradford) is a high-stepping parade-ground piece that flows from the streams of Johann Strauss, Jr. and John Philip Sousa. No one knows exactly why Anderson chose not to publish this smartly-crafted march, but there seems to be less of Anderson's personal melodic/harmonic voice here than in his other pieces from this period. In 1950 Teresa Brewer's record of Music! Music! Music! took America's jukeboxes by storm, driving people crazy. So Anderson decided to have a little fun in The Classical Jukebox, arranging the maddeningly perky hit song in the styles of Wagner's Tannhäuser, Delibes' ballets, and Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (the latter is quoted in Music!'s bridge), while mimicking the mechanical sounds and malfunctions of the gaudily-colored machine. One of the glitches is a simulated "stuck groove" (the source of the cliché, "like a broken record") right in the middle of the piece, which will amuse listeners of certain ages and baffle others.
With a minimum of deft strokes, Anderson could evoke whole worlds in three-minute snapshots. The introduction to The First Day Of Spring is like opening a gate into a splendid, lush garden that is enjoying its first bloom of the season. China Doll has a fragile scurrying quality that suggests Asia without abandoning Anderson's own voice for a second, much the way the Chinese Dance does in Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.
Joining Clarinet Candy are four more lesser-known compositions that were written for Anderson's last Decca album in 1962. Couples who retire are said to enter their "golden years", but Anderson's richly-upholstered The Golden Years could refer to any cherished period, whether looking ahead or remembering back. The Captains And The Kings takes its cue from Kipling's Recessional – "The tumult and the shouting dies, the Captains and the Kings depart" (the Roman proverb, "All glory is fleeting," could also apply). The Captains are represented by an expectant theme in 2/4 meter, the Kings in a grand tune in 3/4 that trails away. The brooding Balladette begins with a quizzical chromatic motif that turns out to be the running accompaniment for the main themes. Inspired by Anderson's daughter Jane (who was studying viola), Arietta is another overlooked gem, one that began life as a duet for viola and cello and became a lovely neo-classical successor to Saraband.
Volume One closes with Anderson's sole extended original orchestral work, a three-movement Piano Concerto in C which the composer labored over in the first half of 1953. With Eugene List playing the solo part, Anderson conducted the first performance in Chicago's Grant Park on 18 July 1953, and repeated it in Cleveland the following July. Stung by the mixed reviews in the press and dissatisfied with the first movement, Anderson withdrew the piece, even omitting mention of it in his 1970 list of compositions. Toward the end of his life, however, he warmed to the concerto again and talked of revising it, but never got around to the task.
Eventually, Anderson's widow Eleanor decided to release the concerto as he left it – and since its revival in 1989, the piece has been receiving an increasing number of performances, fulfilling a need for tuneful, audience-friendly, American-made piano concertos. The high point is clearly the third movement's second subject, where Anderson strikes gold with a superb, entirely-in-character tune that can hold its own with virtually any melody in any piano concerto.
Richard S. Ginell
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