“I wrote compositions, not songs.”
—Leroy Anderson defending his craft
Since Jazz Pizzicato and its encore Jazz Legato first found their ways out of Leroy Anderson’s pen, onto Arthur Fiedler’s repertoire list then into the ears of Boston Pops concertgoers, radio listeners and the record-buying public, light concert music—wherever Western music is performed—has never been the same.
Now, more than three decades after Anderson’s own syncopated clock ran out of bars due to lung cancer, his minor masterpieces continue to flesh out and/or dominate concert programs of student, community and professional orchestras alike. No better time to issue a book dedicated to the life and work of the composer who gave us Blue Tango, Bugler’s Holiday and—forever changing Christmas and adding a three-second item to trumpet auditions—Sleigh Ride.
The concise and informative biography section by Steve Metcalf is a quick read, written with affection. Limited by the sheer volume of material to follow, it is left for another volume to delve into the detail of Anderson’s psyche and balancing act of the composer as artiste cf entrepreneur.
Many fascinating tidbits await the patient eye in the bibliography: “Writing light music is just as hard as writing serious music,” is reported by Emily Cain (B58). Earlier, Anderson tells William Simmons (B42) “… a composer can’t assume that he knows more than anyone else.” But what Anderson did know was painstakingly orchestrated and the epitome of brevity. His entire, mature output, curiously like that of Anton Webern, can be performed in a few short hours. However, the creator of Fiddle Faddle (if only the Canada Council had thought fit to commission its sequel: Fuddle Duddle when then-prime minister Trudeau made his infamous “mumble” in the House of Commons, February 16, 1971), Serenata and Trumpeter’s Lullaby lived and died by industry ratings and public acclaim. After his career was established, he eschewed his “arranger” background (once using John Woodbury—his place of residence—as a pseudonym then having his name removed from many BPO charts) he stuck to his tonal and melodic knitting, never venturing into the realms of atonality, minimalism or neo classicism that enraged or engaged the “un-light” orchestral composers of his time.
Longer forms were tried. The Concerto in C Major for Piano and Orchestra had limited success after its première in 1953 (Eugene List, soloist), only to be withdrawn in 1954 where it lay dormant until the family re-released it in 1988. Equally unsuccessful was the musical Goldilocks, which closed in New York after either 161 or 163 performances (depending on which reference is used). Some of its songs managed lives of their own, but perhaps tellingly, Anderson’s challenge was to set the lyrics to music rather than create instrumental showpieces. Of course, many of his hits have lyrics (expertly crafted by Mitchell Parish, but then were written by another, after the fact).
Devotees will revel in the fastidiously researched “Works and Performances,” “Discography,” “Arrangements” and ten appendices that name the names of collaborators and further chronicle his works, recordings and conducting engagements.
This generous volume serves as a welcome companion to the thousands of recordings currently available and concerts still to come from the man whose Forgotten Dreams still inspire even as string sections everywhere continue to Plink, Plank Plunk! JWR