1908 - 1975
Leroy Anderson (29 June 1908 to 18 May 1975) was best known as an American composer of short, light concert pieces, many of which were introduced by the Boston Pops Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Fiedler. John Williams described him as "one of the great American masters of light orchestral music."
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Swedish parents, Leroy Anderson was given his first piano lessons by his mother, who was an organist. He continued studying piano with Henry Gideon at the New England Conservatory of Music, and he also took double bass lessons from Gaston Dufresne in Boston. In 1926 Anderson entered Harvard, where he studied theory with Walter Spalding, counterpoint with Edward Ballantine, harmony with George Enescu and composition with Walter Piston. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1929 and Master of Arts in 1930.
He continued studying at Harvard, concentrating in Scandinavian languages, while also working as organist for the university, leading the choir and the Harvard University Band, and conducting and arranging for dance bands around Boston. His work came to the attention of Arthur Fiedler, who in 1936 hired Anderson to arrange traditional and popular music for the Boston Pops as well as to write original compositions, commissioning Anderson to write Jazz Pizzicato in 1938 and Jazz Legato in 1939.
In 1942, Anderson joined the U.S. Army, as a translator and intelligence officer, working at the Pentagon on Scandinavian intelligence matters during World War II. But his duties did not prevent him from composing, and in 1951 Anderson wrote his first hit, Blue Tango, earning a Golden Disc and the No. 11 spot on the Billboard charts.
His pieces and his recordings during the fifties conducting a studio orchestra were immense commercial successes. Blue Tango was the first instrumental recording ever to sell a million copies. His most famous pieces are probably Sleigh Ride and The Syncopated Clock, both of which are instantly recognizable to millions of people. In 1950, WCBS-TV in New York City selected Syncopated Clock as the theme song for The Late Show. Mitchell Parish added words to Syncopated Clock, and later wrote lyrics for other Anderson tunes, including Sleigh Ride. Interestingly, Sleigh Ride was not written as a Christmas piece, but as a work that describes a winter event. Anderson started the work during a heat wave in August 1946. From 1952 to 1961, Anderson's composition Plink, Plank, Plunk was used as the theme for the CBS panel show I've Got A Secret.
Anderson's musical style, heavily influenced by George Gershwin and folk music of various lands, employs creative instrumental effects and occasionally makes use of sound-generating items such as typewriters and sandpaper. (Krzysztof Penderecki also uses a typewriter in his orchestral music, in Fluorescences, but with a decidedly less humorous effect.) Anderson wrote his Piano Concerto in C in 1953 but withdrew it, feeling that it had weak spots. In 1988 Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra released the first recording of this work; three other recordings have since been released. In 1958, Anderson orchestrated Meredith Willson's 76 Trombones, from the classic musical The Music Man. That year he wrote his own musical, Goldilocks, which earned two Tony awards but did not achieve commercial success. Anderson never wrote another musical, preferring instead to continue writing orchestral miniatures. His pieces, including The Typewriter, Bugler's Holiday, and A Trumpeter's Lullaby are performed by orchestras and bands ranging from school groups to professional organizations.
Anderson would occasionally appear on the Boston Pops regular concerts on PBS to conduct his own music while Fiedler would sit on the sidelines. For "The Typewriter" Fiedler would don a green eyeshade, roll up his sleeves, and mime working on an old typewriter while the orchestra played. For his contribution to the recording industry, Leroy Anderson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1620 Vine Street. He was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1988 and his music continues to be a staple of "pops" orchestra repertoire. In 2006, one of his piano works, Forgotten Dreams, became the background for a British TV advertisement for mobile phone company '3'. Previously, Mantovani's recording of the song had been the closing theme for WABC-TV's Eyewitness News for much of the 1970s.
His first name was pronounced the classical way, with the stress on the second syllable; "Luh-ROY" rather than the now prevalent pronunciation of that name, "LEE-roy".
For more information visit www.leroy-anderson.com.
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