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ClassicsOnline Home » ANDERSON, L.: Orchestral Music, Vol. 4 - Irish Suite / Scottish Suite / Alma Mater / A Christmas Festival
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. 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 Four concentrates on Anderson’s many arrangements, as well as revisions or alternate versions of his own works, including Alma Mater, a reworking of his 1939 suite Harvard Sketches.
By David Hurwitz
By Paul Turok
Leroy Anderson (1908-1975)
Orchestral Music • 4
Leroy Anderson is best-known as a composer of painstakingly-crafted, to-the-point, irrepressibly tuneful original orchestral compositions. Yet a quick glance through his catalogue also reveals an extensive listing of arrangements, as well as some revisions or alternate versions of his own works. Vol. 4 of the complete edition of Anderson’s orchestral works concentrates on these aspects of his output, and like the other volumes in this project, this one contains some hitherto unrecorded or unpublished rarities that the Anderson family has released.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1908, Anderson was a graduate of Harvard University, where he studied composition with Walter Piston and Georges Enesco 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 writing 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.
At the time when Anderson was a frequent contributor to the Boston Pops’ library of arrangements, he was commissioned by Boston’s Eire Society in 1947 to arrange a selection of Irish folk-tunes. While Anderson typically could spend months or years composing and reworking one of his own miniatures, he polished off four movements of what was then called Eire Suite (The Irish Washerwoman, The Minstrel Boy, The Last Rose Of Summer and The Rakes Of Mallow) in only twelve days, just in time for a Pops concert on 6th June of that year. Two years later Anderson expanded the suite from four movements to six, adding The Wearing Of The Green and The Girl I Left Behind Me and altering their sequence, while changing the title to Irish Suite. Never one to settle for routine, Anderson turns these humble melodies into highly-cultivated concert pieces, finding all kinds of inventive ways to repeat the tunes without losing our attention. He runs his own figurations in parallel with The Irish Washerwoman’s catchy jig, gives The Minstrel Boy a military dignity, scampers merrily through The Rakes Of Mallow, and plays the brass, wind and pizzicato string sections off each other in The Wearing Of The Green in the style of the scherzo of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The Last Rose Of Summer becomes a lovely miniature violin concerto, and the jaunty The Girl I Left Behind Me closes with perhaps another wry nod to Tchaikovsky.
While Irish Suite expanded as it evolved, its little-known successor Scottish Suite gradually shrank in size to almost nothing. Originally conceiving his sequel in six movements, Anderson ended up writing only four (Bonnie Dundee, Turn Ye To Me, The Bluebells Of Scotland, and The Campbells Are Coming), dropping Scotland The Brave and Charlie Is My Darling before the project left the planning stage. Turn Ye To Me and The Bluebells Of Scotland were played for the first time during the recording sessions for Anderson’s Decca album A Leroy Anderson Pops Concert, and he conducted the first performance of the whole suite on 31 July 1954, in Cleveland. But after two more performances in Cincinnati and Miami Beach, Anderson withdrew the suite, omitting all mention of Bonnie Dundee and The Campbells Are Coming in the 1970 catalogue of his works and choosing only to publish The Bluebells Of Scotland in orchestral form. Yet with the reinstatement of Bonnie Dundee and The Campbells Are Coming for this first recording of the entire suite, the two missing movements form a pair of sturdy, often thrilling book-end marches around the affectionate treatment of Turn Ye To Me and the sparkling, neoclassical-styled Bluebells. Turn Ye To Me was published only as a piano arrangement, and the orchestral score and parts were subsequently lost, so for this recording, David Ross transcribed the parts from Anderson’s recording.
In between the suites, we hear a pair of relaxed nature pieces, one an Anderson original, the other not. To A Wild Rose is a gorgeous arrangement for strings and harp from 1970 of Edward MacDowell’s best-known piano piece. Summer Skies (1953), like its close relative The First Day Of Spring, is a richly-upholstered vision of the outdoors suitable for day-dreaming. It may or may not be a coincidence that its magical descending opening for strings directly anticipates a Marty Paich string passage that launched Ray Charles’s 1962 hit record, Born To Lose.
A self-described composer of “concert music with a popular touch”, Anderson did not set out consciously to write hit tunes, and often took umbrage to suggestions that he was mainly a “song-writer”. Nevertheless, once he started to become well-known, Tin Pan Alley sought to maximise the yield wherever possible. In that spirit Anderson’s publisher Jack Mills came up with the idea of fitting lyrics to his compositions, suggesting the respected lyricist Mitchell Parish, who had added words to a huge hit tune, Hoagy Carmichael’s Star Dust, and many others, as the man for the job. Anderson was dubious about the notion at first, fearing that the orchestral originals might be supplanted by the new sung versions. But once Parish showed him his work, Anderson found himself, in his wife Eleanor’s words, “surprised by how much he liked the results”. While Parish’s retrofitted lyrics certainly played a part in making Sleigh Ride a holiday perennial and Serenata a jazz standard, the three examples of Parish’s work with Anderson here are not nearly as familiar as their orchestral versions (although the vocal Blue Tango briefly enjoyed a vogue in the wake of Anderson’s million-selling instrumental record). Belle Of The Ball, a first recording, is an intricately-rhymed elaboration on the original, with a baritone admiring the twirling girl as a soprano (presumably the “belle”) carols wordlessly alongside. Belle Of The Ball and Blue Tango are the only Anderson/Parish collaborations that have custom-made orchestral arrangements by the composer. For the wistful Forgotten Dreams, arranged for voice and orchestra by Robert Wendell with Anderson’s orchestral score as a guide, Anderson conceived a new, simpler vocal melody for Parish’s words in 1962, feeling that the original tune (heard underneath as counterpoint) had too wide a range for most singers.
Another product of Anderson’s time as a Boston Pops arranger is A Christmas Festival from 1950. Fiedler needed a salute to the holidays for a two-sided 45 or 78rpm single, and Anderson delivered above and beyond the usual call for such material, skilfully weaving a group of well-known Christmas songs into a serious concert overture. As recorded by Fiedler, Anderson and here, A Christmas Festival runs about nine minutes, but the practical composer chose to publish another, much-shortened version in order to reduce the cost to orchestras and avoid having time-conscious conductors make unwanted cuts.
Ever the perfectionist, Anderson gave Harvard Sketches, his 1939 suite (Naxos 8.559357) that presents a sometimes-irreverent picture of Harvard life, a thorough revision in 1954, finally publishing it under the title Alma Mater. Not only are the titles of the movements changed, the musical material is often markedly different within the same overall structures. The humour is broader, subjecting the saucy freshman on Main Street to new indignities, employing sound effects in the library episode where Harvard Sketches uses a conventional orchestra for its layered disruptions. More than a mere revision, Alma Mater is virtually a separate composition, and thus, both versions deserve their own places in this edition.
Richard S. Ginell
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