Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, recorded and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2005 by Fred Flaxman
Program 13 (revised)
“Leroy Anderson”

Part A = 37:53
Part B = 19:38
Total = 57:31

an excerpt of Blue Tango by Leroy Anderson [Anderson conducting his orchestra, MCA Classics MCAD2-9815-A, track 1] [under the following]

FLAXMAN: Live long enough and the popular music of your youth becomes the classical music of today. Witness the clever orchestral miniatures of Leroy Anderson, once on the hit parade, now in the classical music catalogs. We’ll explore the life and music of Leroy Anderson — including his rarely performed but delightful piano concerto — on this edition of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

MUSIC: Down and out

The American composer Leroy Anderson, who lived from 1908 to 1975, is the O. Henry of the music world. He came out with one short, clever, successful orchestral miniature after another, but almost never tried his hand at anything longer. O. Henry wrote one short, clever, successful story after another, and never published a novel.

But there the points of similarity end. O. Henry, who was born in North Carolina in 1862, had minimal formal education. Anderson, who was born and raised in Cambridge, Mass., was educated in the local schools, including Harvard, from which he received his B.A. (Magna cum laude) and M.A. in music.

Anderson was the son of Swedish immigrant parents. He led an exemplary life. O. Henry, whose real name was William Sydney Porter, was sentenced to five years in jail for embezzling funds from a bank for which he had worked. Three years and about a dozen short stories later, Porter emerged from prison as “O. Henry” to help hide his true identity. He moved to New York City, where over the next ten years before his death in 1910, he published over 300 stories and gained worldwide acclaim as America’s favorite short story writer.

Anderson certainly deserves worldwide acclaim as America’s favorite orchestral miniature composer. And it all started with his first music lessons from his mother, who was a church organist.

At the age of just 11, Leroy Anderson (whose real name was Leroy Anderson) began piano studies at the New England Conservatory of Music. For his high school graduation he wrote, orchestrated and conducted the class song. Next came Harvard, where he wrote arrangements for the Harvard Band which are still played today.

In 1936 he was asked to make an arrangement for the Boston Pops Orchestra, the first of many he was to do for them. Arthur Fiedler, the conductor, encouraged him to bring him an original work. The result was Jazz Pizzicato, Anderson’s first composition. The Pops premiered it in 1938. We hear it now as performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler from a 1992 RCA Victor BMG Classics compact disc.

MUSIC: Leroy Anderson: Jazz Pizzicato - Jazz Legato [RCA Victor 09026-61237-2, track 6] [2:54]

FLAXMAN: Leroy Anderson’s very first composition, Jazz Pizzicato, and Jazz Legato, both performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler. It was Fiedler who commissioned the work.

Anderson was drafted into the U.S. Army in World War II as a private in 1942. He spent the majority of his time there as chief of the Scandinanvian Desk in Military Intelligence at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., but he was in the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps for several months, where his proficiency in German and Scandinavian languages also served him well. He was released from military duty in early 1946, emerging as a captain.

The Syncopated Clock, one of his most famous compositions, dates from this period. I would nominate this piece and Anderson’s The Typewriter as two of the wittiest and cleverest musical compositions in the orchestral repertoire.

MUSIC: Leroy Anderson conducts Leroy Anderson: The Syncopated Clock and The Typewriter [MCA Classics MCAD2-9815-A, tracks 20 and 10] [2:21 and 1:36]

Two clever, humorous miniature tone poems by Leroy Anderson, both making use of very unusual instruments. First we heard The Syncopated Clock; then The Typewriter. Leroy Anderson conducted his own orchestra in both MCA Classics recordings.

The Syncopated Clock was used as the theme song for The Late Show movie by a television station in New York City in the 1950s, making it immediately recognizable to millions of people. The Typewriter is often used on radio programs to this day to precede the reading of letters from listeners.

Shortly after the war, Anderson wrote another of his most famous, now classic compositions: Sleigh Ride. It was written during a heat wave and had nothing at all to do with Christmas -- just winter. Nevertheless, it has reappeared during the Christmas season ever since.

MUSIC: Leroy Anderson: Sleigh Ride [MCA MCAD2-9815-B, track 7] [2:39]

I love the neighing horse at the end there. And the use of sleigh bells — another example of Leroy Anderson’s use of unusual percussion instruments. That was Sleigh Ride as conducted by the composer and his orchestra on an MCA Classics compact disc.

Anderson conducted his own orchestra from 1950 to 1962. He gave the first performances of many of his pieces at the same time as they were being recorded.

In 1952 Blue Tango, one of his finest orchestral works, became the top “single” of the year. It was at the top of the Hit Parade for 22 weeks. Anderson’s own recording of it earned him a gold record, which was unprecedented for an instrumental symphonic recording.

We hear that recording now from the Leroy Anderson Collection on MCA Classics.

MUSIC: Leroy Anderson: Blue Tango [MCA Classics MCAD2-9815-A, track 1] [2:46]

FLAXMAN: Blue Tango by Leroy Anderson as conducted by the composer.
You are listening to Compact Discoveries. My name is Fred Flaxman. In this hour we are exploring the life and music of “Leroy Anderson.”

Leroy Anderson was a master of short compositions, for sure. But what about longer orchestral works? Well, Anderson tried one, and I think it came out very well, but he evidently didn’t agree with me. He composed a Piano Concerto in C Major in 1953 and conducted its first performances in Chicago and Cleveland. But then he withdrew the work, intending to improve it, which he never did.

His family decided to publish the concerto as the composer had originally written it, and I’m very glad they did. It is available on a Telarc compact disc with Stewart Goodyear at the piano and the Cincinnati Pops conducted by Erich Kunzel.

MUSIC: Leroy Anderson: Piano Concerto in C [Telarc CD 80112, tracks 1, 2 and 3] [18:46]

FLAXMAN: Leroy Anderson’s one and only piano concerto. Stewart Goodyear was the soloist with the Cincinnati Pops conducted by Erich Kunzel on a Telarc compact disc. A real compact discovery.

You’re listening to Compact Discoveries. My name is Fred Flaxman. In this hour we’re exploring the life and music of Leroy Anderson.

[optional one minute break at 37:53 not included in the total timing]

Anderson also made one attempt at writing the music for a Broadway show. His music was successful, but the show, Goldilocks, only lasted for 158 performances. The original cast album is still available on a Sony Broadway compact disc.

MUSIC: Leroy Anderson: Goldilocks Overture (Sony Broadway SK 48222, track 1). [4:40]

FLAXMAN: The overture to the 1958 Broadway musical, Goldilocks. Music by Leroy Anderson. We heard the orchestra of the original Broadway cast. The musical director was Lehman Engel.

Before writing the music for Goldilocks, Anderson had only one previous experience composing for a musical. He wrote the score to Arnold Horwitt’s lyrics for Wonderful Town. But their combined effort was rejected less than two months before the show opened on the road, and Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green were brought in to replace Anderson and Horwitt.

Although lacking in long-form orchestral output, Anderson did compose two symphonic suites. One was called “A Christmas Festival;” the other “The Irish Suite.” These serve to show off Anderson’s gifts as an orchestrator and arranger. Here’s “The Rakes of Mallow” from The Irish Suite. The Boston Pops Orchestra is conducted by Arthur Fiedler in this RCA Victor compact disc of Leroy Anderson’s Greatest Hits.

MUSIC: Leroy Anderson: “The Rakes of Mallow” from The Irish Suite [RCA Victor 09026-61237-2, track 18] [3:17]

FLAXMAN: “The Rakes of Mallow” from The Irish Suite by Leroy Anderson. The Boston Pops Orchestra was conducted by Arthur Fiedler in this RCA Victor compact disc.

Let’s get back to Anderson’s totally original music again, and conclude this tribute to America’s favorite miniaturist composer with some more of his delightful tunes. They are all from a Naxos release with Richard Hayman and his Orchestra. First, Belle of the Ball; then Plink, Plank, Plunk!

MUSIC: Leroy Anderson: Belle of the Ball [Naxos 8.559125, track 20] [3:08]

MUSIC: Leroy Anderson: Plink, Plank, Plunk! [Naxos 8.559125, track 17] [2:56]

FLAXMAN: Richard Hayman and his Orchestra performed Belle of the Ball, and Plink, Plank, Plunk! by Leroy Anderson from the Naxos American Classics CD of “Leroy Anderson Orchestral Favourites.”

One more piece from that collection to conclude this hour: Leroy Anderson’s Fiddle Faddle.

MUSIC: Leroy Anderson: Fiddle Faddle [Naxos 8.559125, track 7] [down and under:]

FLAXMAN: Leroy Anderson’s music is so familiar. It has been used for theme music on television programs, as musical transitions on NPR’s All Things Considered, as background music in elevators and doctor’s offices. Music that familiar risks being taken for granted and not appreciated for its true quality... and cleverness.

Short orchestral compositions, like good short stories, can be well written, have interesting and beautiful themes, be humorous or sad. Leroy Anderson’s works were all of this. And his track record of hits to pieces composed is hard to beat. I hope you enjoy this music as much as I do.

Your reaction to Compact Discoveries would be very much appreciated. I can be reached by mail in care of this station or by e-mail via the Compact Discoveries website: www.compactdiscoveries.com. There you’ll find descriptions of all Compact Discoveries programs and complete scripts that give information on every piece of music used.

A special thanks to Eleanor Anderson, Leroy Anderson’s widow, for her help with this program, and to the members of WXEL-FM and Barry and Florence Friedberg for their financial support. The program was written, produced, recorded, and edited by your guide, Fred Flaxman, and is a production of Compact Discoveries, Incorporated.

MUSIC: ends with the end of the piece at 57:26

WFMT Announcer: This program is distributed by the WFMT Radio Network.

[Program ends at 57:31]

  2009 Compact Discoveries