The world-famous creator of the Christmas standard Sleigh Ride, Leroy Anderson was the eclectic assimilator of many diverse styles. He is best known as a composer of painstakingly crafted, to-the-point, irrepressibly tuneful original orchestral compositions. Yet a quick glance through his catalogue also reveals an extensive listing of arrangements, as well as some revisions or alternate versions of his own works. Naxos’s complete edition of Anderson’s orchestral works concentrates on these aspects of his output and contains some hitherto unrecorded or unpublished rarities that the Anderson family has released.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1908, Anderson was a graduate of Harvard University, where he studied composition with Walter Piston and George Enescu, and led the Harvard Band for a number of years. He seemed headed for a career in linguistics until a guest spot in 1936 leading the Boston Pops Orchestra in his Harvard Fantasy caught the discerning ear of Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler, who promptly asked Anderson to write some pieces for the orchestra. Anderson was the first composer to sell over a million copies of a purely instrumental work with his Blue Tango (1953). The Syncopated Clock, written seven years earlier, had been his first gold record and US charted hit (it reached No. 11 in 1951 for Anderson’s own Pops Concert Orchestra).
Following a long break during World War II, where he served in the US Army as a translator of Scandinavian languages, Anderson became a regular at the Pops, crafting arrangements of popular music and writing miniature gems of his own. Anderson’s star rose to surprising heights after he was offered a recording contract of his own with Decca Records in 1950, for which he led pick-up orchestras of New York’s finest symphonic musicians in bestselling albums of his own compositions. He turned to Broadway, completing the score for one show, Goldilocks, in 1958 before returning to his métier, the miniature, with one final burst of new published material in 1962. Aside from writing a few unpublished original pieces, Anderson’s remaining years were spent mostly arranging and guest-conducting until his death from lung cancer in 1975.