Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2008 by Fred Flaxman

Program 146
"A Leroy Anderson Christmas"


MUSIC:
Anderson: Sleigh Ride performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin [Naxos 8.559357, track 13] [under the following]

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman. Stay with me for the next hour and you’ll experience a musical Christmas like no other: a one hundred percent kosher “Leroy Anderson Christmas.”

American composer Leroy Anderson’s greatest gift to future Christmases was undoubtedly Sleigh Ride, which we hear now in the background and which we’ll hear in its entirety at the end of the hour. But Anderson was a great arranger and orchestrator as well as a great composer of original miniatures for orchestra, and he took time out to write four other holiday compositions, all of which I’ll play for you in this hour of Compact Discoveries.

First we’ll hear Anderson’s medley of Christmas carols called A Christmas Festival, then his Suite of Carols for Brass Choir, followed by his Suite of Carols for String Orchestra, then his Suite of Carols for Woodwind Ensemble, and finally his totally original composition, Sleigh Ride.

MUSIC: fades out

Leroy Anderson was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1908. He received both his B.A. and M.A. without leaving town, at a school called Harvard. His composition teachers there included Walter Piston and George Enescu.

He became the director of the Harvard Band in 1930. His arrangements for the band brought him to the attention of Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops. It was Fiedler who premiered his early arrangements and his first original pieces. And it was this relationship that helped establish Anderson’s career as a composer of light orchestral music. His most popular works include Blue Tango, The Syncopated Clock, The Typewriter, Bugler’s Holiday, The Waltzing Cat, and Plink, Plank, Plunk in addition to Sleigh Ride. At the height of his career in 1953, a survey cited him as the most performed American composer by American orchestras. Anderson died in 1975.

It was Arthur Fiedler who gave Anderson the idea of writing a special concert piece for a Christmas recording. Anderson selected the most popular Christmas songs, took their melodies, and built a concert overture around them.

We’ll begin this hour with that overture, which Anderson called A Christmas Festival. It is performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin and is from a series of Naxos recordings of Anderson’s orchestral music issued in 2008 in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

MUSIC:
Anderson: A Christmas Festival performed by The BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin [Naxos 8.559381, track 20] [9:10]

A Christmas Festival by Leroy Anderson. The BBC Concert Orchestra was conducted by Leonard Slatkin in this 2008 Naxos recording.

We are experiencing “A Leroy Anderson Christmas” on Compact Discoveries this hour. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

Anderson’s Suite of Carols for Brass Choir is one of three Christmas music suites he arranged in 1955 for a holiday season record album. In the program notes accompanying this Naxos CD, Richard Ginell says that “Anderson wears an entirely straight face and turns out tasteful, soul-satisfying writing for brass that is way above the level of the average Christmas potpourri.” I hope you agree with that assessment.

MUSIC: Anderson: Suite of Carols for Brass Choir performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin [Naxos 8.559357, track 14] [11:42]

Suite of Carols for Brass Choir by Leroy Anderson. You heard the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin on a Naxos recording.

Anderson’s Suite of Carols for String Orchestra was written for the same 1955 Christmas recording as the Suite of Carols for Brass Choir. It incorporates tunes from It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Away in a Manger, Wassail Song and other holiday melodies. “I didn’t just want to make medleys of them,” Anderson told an interviewer. “That’s the usual thing. In treating them instrumentally, I thought I’d try to get something that would give a little more scope and be a little different.”

Here are the results as performed, once again, by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin in a 2008 Naxos release.

MUSIC: Anderson: Suite of Carols for String Orchestra performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatin [Naxos 8.559356, track 16] [12:27]

Leroy Anderson’s Suite of Carols for String Orchestra performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman, and this hour is devoted to “A Leroy Anderson Christmas.”

[optional one-minute break not included in total timing]

I mentioned earlier that Anderson was asked to write one Christmas suite for a 1955 recording, but he ended up writing three. We’ve just heard the first two -- for brass and for strings. Now let’s listen to his Suite of Carols for Woodwind Ensemble. Once again the BBC Concert Orchestra is conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

MUSIC: Anderson: Suite of Carols for Woodwind Ensemble performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin [Naxos 8.559621, tracks 8-13] [c.10:00]

Leroy Anderson’s Suite of Carols for Woodwind Ensemble. The BBC Concert Orchestra was conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

I’m going to conclude our “Leroy Anderson Christmas” with his original composition, Sleigh Ride. Although this piece comes back to haunt us every Christmas season, it was conceived during the summer heat wave of 1946. Anderson completed the work in February, 1948, and it was first performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler in 1949. The following year Mitchell Parish set words to this music. The song was a hit record.

Although Sleigh Ride is often associated with Christmas and often appears on Christmas CD collections, the Parish lyrics never specifically mention any holiday or religion. According to the annual review of Christmas music by ASCAP -- the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers -- Sleigh Ride consistently ranks in the top 10 list of most performed songs during the Christmas season worldwide. And according to Anderson biographer Steve Metcalf, “Sleigh Ride... has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music.”

So I guess this won’t be a compact discovery for anyone, but how could I prepare a program called “A Leroy Anderson Christmas” without including it?

As Richard Ginell writes in his program notes accompanying the Naxos recording, “for a long time Blue Tango was considered to be Anderson’s biggest hit, but gradually, almost by stealth, Sleigh Ride has overtaken it and probably will hold that title for eternity. Although not a Christmas song per se, it became a permanent holiday standard thanks in part to Mitchell Parish’s added-on lyrics that perfectly latch onto the rhythms of the piece’s propulsive tunes and joyously evoke winters of the past.”

MUSIC: Anderson/Parish: Sleigh Ride performed by Johnny Mathis] [3:00]

Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride with the lyrics added to it by Mitchell Parish as sung by Johnny Mathis. I thought Johnny Mathis came very close to being in tune at the beginning of that recording, but I greatly prefer the original Leroy Anderson orchestration as performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

MUSIC: Anderson: Sleigh Ride, BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin [Naxos 8.559357, track 13] [2:47]

MUSIC: under the following

And that brings this hour of Compact Discoveries to a close. I hope you enjoyed “A Leroy Anderson Christmas” and that your holiday season is a very happy one. If you missed any of this hour or would like to hear it again, go to compactdiscoveries.com on the internet where you’ll find links to stream most Compact Discoveries programs on demand without charge. Look for program number 146. At the web site you’ll also find scripts for every Compact Discoveries program with complete information on every selection. There are articles there as well, listener reaction, and a list of stations broadcasting the programs.

This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening.

MUSIC: Ends at 56:45

ANNOUNCER [Steve Jencks]: Compact Discoveries is a production of Compact Discoveries, Incorporated, a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization located at 36 Pickens Lane in Weaverville, North Carolina, and on the web at compactdiscoveries.com. These programs are distributed to public radio stations nationwide through PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

Program Ends at 57:00
 
  ©2008 Compact Discoveries