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Born on 29 June 1908 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Swedish immigrants, Leroy Anderson grew up in a musical family. His father played both the mandolin and banjo, while his mother, who was a church organist, gave the boy his first piano lessons. He received his degree in music from Harvard University, studying with composers Walter Piston and Georges Enescu. In the 1930s he was active in the Boston area as an organist, conductor, arranger and double bass and tuba player.
In 1931 he became director of the Harvard Band, and his arrangements caught the attention of the Boston Symphony manager, who asked him to make a symphonic setting of Harvard songs and to conduct the piece himself at the Boston Pops 'Harvard Night'. Arthur Fiedler, music director of the Pops, was impressed with Anderson's work and encouraged him to write original compositions for the orchestra. The first 'Jazz Pizzicato' was an instant hit when premiered in 1938. From then on, Anderson began providing for the Pops a torrent of original pieces, and his popularity shot up overnight. He began arranging and orchestrating for Fiedler's Boston Pops, and the latter obliged by continuously premiering Anderson's works, among them Sleigh Ride, Fiddle Faddle, Serenata and Trumpeter's Lullaby.
Listen — Leroy Anderson: A Trumpeter's Lullaby
(CD 3 track 17, 0:00-0:59) ℗ 2008 Naxos Rights US Inc :
In 1950 he began recording his music for Decca with his own orchestra. By now his fame was at an unprecedented high, and many of his new pieces received their premiere when Anderson recorded them. One of these was Blue Tango. Indeed this piece became top single of 1952, and it retained top spot on the Hit Parade for twenty-two weeks. It also earned Anderson a gold record, at the time something inconceivable for an instrumental symphonic recording.
Listen — Leroy Anderson: Blue Tango
(CD 1 track 2, 0:00-0:46) ℗ 2008 Naxos Rights US Inc :
Although the composer has remained famous for his short pieces, he did write two substantial works – the 1958 Broadway musical Goldilocks and the 1953 Piano Concerto in C. He withdrew the latter piece after conducting two performances, but the family allowed it to be published in 1988, and since then its popularity has taken an upward trend.
Listen — Leroy Anderson: Allegro moderato (Piano Concerto in C)
(CD 1 track 15, 0:00-0:58) ℗ 2008 Naxos Rights US Inc :
Anderson died of cancer on 18 May 1975 in Woodbury, Connecticut, his home for twenty-five years, leaving behind a treasure trove of unending melodic content that will endure as long as there are people who can enjoy the simple things in life. Indeed, Anderson's compositions transcend musical boundaries. In a critic's remark, 'Sleigh Ride almost certainly holds the distinction of having been recorded by a broader aesthetic range of performers than any other piece in the history of Western music.'
Listen — Leroy Anderson: Sleigh Ride
(CD 3 track 13, 0:00-0:49) ℗ 2008 Naxos Rights US Inc :
Maybe one might get the impression that all this was easy. On the contrary, Anderson laboured alone over each measure of each piece unstintingly, day in day out. That is why the end result always sounded as if he had pulled one marvellous tune after another out of his hat almost at will. Heartfelt thanks to the Anderson family for making available several pieces that the composer did not release with some first recordings scattered among the familiar and not-so-familiar titles.
Listen — Leroy Anderson: Christmas Festival
(CD 4 track 20, 6:35-7:33) ℗ 2008 Naxos Rights US Inc :
This humdinger of a box, containing the first five Naxos issues released separately in a projected cycle dedicated to all of Anderson's compositions, is not only an event of the utmost importance, but a golden opportunity to wallow in some of the most exquisitely charming light music ever to come out of America. I cannot conceive anyone not being taken in by this meticulously crafted music bursting with infectious tunes and captivating harmonies.
Space constraints do not allow me to review individual tracks, but then who cares, when there are so many endearing moments to set your toes tapping. Leonard Slatkin and co are on top form, and their performances are superbly rounded, full of swagger and consistently fresh and spirited. A near five-hour bonanza that you will want to return to more frequently than you imagine. Price, presentation and annotations are first-rate.
Copyright © 29 November 2021
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