ClassicsOnline Home » ANDERSON, L.: Orchestral Music, Vol. 2 - Suite of Carols / A Harvard Festival / Song of Jupiter
Leroy Anderson etched out his own unique place in American music – a composer rigorously trained in the classical tradition whose records topped the pop charts, a meticulous arranger of music whose own melodies were crafted with inventive precision. While he labored alone over each measure of each piece, the result sounded as if he had pulled 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-so-familiar titles. Volume Two contains most of the little-known works from Anderson’s last decade.
By David Denton
Leroy Anderson (1908-1975)
Orchestral Music • 2
Leroy Anderson etched out his own unique place in American music – a composer rigorously trained in the classical tradition whose records topped the pop charts, a meticulous arranger of music whose own melodies were crafted with inventive precision. While he labored alone over each measure of each piece, the result sounded as if he had pulled 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 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 Aside from writing a few unpublished original pieces, Anderson’s remaining years were spent mostly arranging and guest-conducting until his death from lung cancer in 1975.
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. Indeed, this volume contains most of the littleknown withdrawn works from Anderson’s last decade.
Woodbury Fanfare, was written for the tercentenary of Anderson’s adopted home town, Woodbury, Connecticut, in 1959. Consisting of a series of festive fanfares for four trumpeters, this tiny prelude was actually recorded by Anderson that year, but he chose not to release it, so this recording is the first to be made public.
A Harvard Festival, also a first recording, is a 1969 revision of A Harvard Fantasy, the very piece that gave Anderson his entrée to the Boston Pops in 1936. Consisting of four Harvard student-songs skillfully woven together, with an organ grandly adding weight to the bass toward the end, this amounts to Anderson’s
Academic Festival Overture – and there are passages of orchestration that do remind one of Brahms. As Anderson related in a 1972 interview, “I did this piece and Arthur Fiedler took a look at it backstage and said, ‘Anderson! You orchestrate well!’ I didn’t know if he was accusing me of something or what; that was his blunt, direct manner. But then he said, ‘How about doing something for us?’”
Two years later in 1938, Anderson came back with something for the Pops, a bit of whimsy for pizzicato strings called Jazz Pizzicato – and his career was launched. This is the earliest published example of the Anderson style, full of good tunes, infectious rhythms, and distinctive carefully-worked-out harmonic movement within a compact structure. While Anderson always recorded this piece in its original string-orchestra version, this disc contains the 1948 edition for full orchestra.
Jazz Pizzicato became a Pops hit, and Fiedler wanted to record it the following year, but Jazz Pizzicato could fill only one-half of a side of a ten-inch 78 RPM record, so Fiedler asked Anderson for a companion piece to complete the side. Out came the breezy, swinging Jazz Legato for strings, which was recorded with Jazz Pizzicato as the B-side for Gottschalk’s The Banjo. Again, we hear the 1948 full orchestra version.
With its unmistakeably feline string glissando, The Waltzing Cat became one of Anderson’s more popular compositions, picturing, in his words, “Puss-in-Boots at a fancy dress ball”. Another felicitous example of the composer’s fondness for 3/4 time is Song of the Bells (originally called Waltz of the Bells), where the chimes get a rare chance to spell out a marvelous tune.
One little-known aspect of Anderson the practical craftsman was his willingness to write music for beginning musicians. Forgotten Dreams was originally conceived as a piano piece for beginners, but the more Anderson played with the theme, the more he felt it deserved development into a symphonic piece. This sweet yet emotional vignette has a depth that belies its simplicity, inviting listeners to muse upon their own dreams or memories that got away.
Likewise, Waltz Around The Scale started life in 1970 as a piece for beginning string ensemble and percussion and was expanded later that year into a concert piece for full orchestra – Anderson’s last original orchestral work. Here, the composer deploys another series of graceful waltz tunes against descending and ascending major and minor scales, with a central section that recalls Song of the Bells. Anderson led the first performance in Hartford, Connecticut in 1971 but soon withdrew the piece.
By contrast, Whistling Kettle was a student piece for violins and violas that stayed in this form as part of a projected, but never finished, 1966 multi-movement work, The Musical Household. Built around a high violin drone on E that no doubt represents the kettle, this piece was also withdrawn by the composer.
The idea of movement was often a part of Anderson’s game, and one particular form of transportation links Horse and Buggy with Home Stretch. When commentators refer to a Norman Rockwell quality in some of Anderson’s work, Horse and Buggy is a prime example, with its easy-going trotting tune and string tremelos framing a scene of long-gone Americana. Home Stretch, written for Anderson’s last Decca album in 1962, kicks up the speed to a fast gallop as a collection of thoroughbreds race for the finish line.
Anderson wondered why his second tango, The Girl in Satin, was never as popular with the public as his first (Blue Tango), for he was equally proud of both. In any case, The Girl in Satin is an even more seductive piece of work than its hit predecessor, with lush string harmonies in the final chorus that touchingly evoke the 1950s.
The posthumously-published March Of The Two Left Feet probably had the longest gestation time of any Anderson original. First mentioned as a piece for Fiedler and the Pops in a 1947 letter, yet not completed until 1969, this madcap fast polka was inspired by a reading of P.G. Wodehouse’s The Man With Two Left Feet – and Anderson has a devilish time tripping up the percussion section with wild offbeats.
Another late piece, Lullaby of the Drums (1970), withdrawn by the composer, receives its first recording in its orchestral version here. More a relaxed march than a lullaby, the tapping of the snare drum, pounding of the timpani, and Latinized tattoo of the bongos ironically guarantee that the listener will not be lulled to sleep.
Finally, we hear two samples from Anderson’s large output as an arranger. One, Song Of Jupiter, is a straight-forward, dignified treatment of Where’er you walk from Handel’s Semele. The other is part of a follow-up to the concert overture A Christmas Festival, where Anderson hit upon the idea of weaving a host of Christmas carols into a suite for an album to be released during the 1955 holiday season. Soon, the one suite expanded into three – one each for the string, winds and brass sections alone.
The neo-classical elegance and imaginative deployment of sonorities in Anderson’s string treatments of Pastores a Belen, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, Bring a Torch Jeannette Isabella, Away in a Manger, and Wassail Song lift this Suite of Carols to a higher level than most holiday potpourris. “I didn’t just want to make medleys of them, that’s the usual thing”, Anderson told an interviewer. “In treating them instrumentally, I thought I’d try to get something that would give a little more scope and be a little different.”
Richard S. Ginell