Leroy Anderson


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Leroy Anderson was 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."


Leroy Anderson was born on June 29, 1908 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His parents were Swedish immigrants who had come to the United States as children.  His father, Bror Anderson, came from Övarp, Norra Strö, near Kristianstad in the province of Skåne.  Bror worked as a postal clerk at the Central Square post office in Cambridge and played the mandolin. He changed the spelling of his first name to Brewer, the pronunciation of which was similar to his Swedish name - Bror.  Leroy's mother, Anna Margareta (Jönsson) Anderson, came from Stockholm.  Anna was an organist at the Swedish Mission Church in Cambridge.  Brewer Anderson and Anna Jönsson met at the Swedish Mission Church and were married there in 1907.  Leroy was born in 1908.  Brewer and Anna Anderson moved from Norfolk Street to 12 Chatham Street when Leroy was one year old.  Another son, Russell Brewer Anderson, was born in 1911.  Cambridge would continue to be the center of Leroy Anderson's world for the next three decades.

Leroy Anderson lived at 12 Chatham Street with his parents and brother Russell from 1909 until 1936, when he moved to New York City. "We were a musical family," Leroy said. "My father played the mandolin, mother played the guitar and I accompanied them on the piano.  Those were happy evenings doing Gilbert and Sullivan, Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes and all the other songs in The Golden Songbook. Radio was in the earphone stage then and we had to make our own entertainment."

The Anderson family attended the Swedish Mission Church in Cambridge which Anna Anderson's father Bengt Johnson had helped to establish.  Brewer Anderson and his brother Nils Olof Anderson (N.O. Anderson) had built the three-story home at 12 Chatham Street where Bror and Anna lived with their sons.  N.O. Anderson went on to create a successful business building homes in Belmont, Watertown and Lexington, Massachusetts.  Leroy's grandfather Bengt Johnson had built fine furniture in Stockholm before emigrating to Massachusetts.  In Cambridge, Bengt worked for the Ivers and Pond Company, building piano cases decorated with detailed carvings.  With a grandfather who made fine furniture and an uncle who built houses, it is no wonder that later in life Leroy Anderson enjoyed woodworking as a hobby.  Leroy built his own desk, woodworking bench, cabinets and numerous custom projects for his children.

Leroy often returned to 12 Chatham Street where his parents continued to live.  It was at this house that he arranged many Broadway show tunes for Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra, and where he composed his Irish Suite in eleven days.


Leroy's mother Anna gave Leroy his first piano lessons starting at age five, "as soon as his feet could reach the pedals."  One day Anna and Brewer heard Leroy playing a song on the piano quite well.  It was not a song that Anna had taught her son to play.  When asked how he knew this song, Leroy replied "it's just something I heard."  Brewer and Anna Anderson discussed their son's increasingly apparent musical talent and decided that Leroy should have professional music lessons.  Floyd Bigelow, Dean of the New England Conservatory of Music, was engaged to give Leroy private piano lessons in 1919 when Leroy was 11 years old.  He relates: "My first composition was a Minuet for String Quartet which I wrote at the age of 12.  I showed it to my piano teacher at the New England Conservatory of Music, Floyd Bigelow Dean, and he took it to George W. Chadwick, who was then the director of the Conservatory.  As a result I received a year's scholarship to study music harmony with Mr. Dean."

Leroy said that he received all his education on one street - Broadway, Cambridge.  He attended Harvard Grammar School, at the corner of Harvard Street and Broadway.  In 1921, he entered Cambridge High and Latin School as a freshman.  The Latin School (once also called the Cambridge Classical School) was located at the corner of Broadway and Trowbridge Streets.  During his years in the Cambridge Latin School (administered jointly with the Cambridge High School beginning in February 1911), Leroy Anderson followed "a course of study that had been created for the express purpose of meeting the admission requirements of Harvard University."  Leroy was an honors student.  While Leroy had learned to speak Swedish at home as a young boy, at CHLS he studied and mastered Latin and French under his teacher Cecil Thayer Derry, becoming president of the French Club.

 Leroy was at CHLS when his father, Brewer Anderson, bought him a trombone so that Leroy would have to play in the front row of the Harvard University Band.  B.A. Anderson wanted to be sure that his son would be easy to see while he marched in the band at Harvard football games.  Leroy studied music at CHLS under John A. Whoriskey.  Leroy belonged to the Glee Club, the Mandolin Club and played trombone in the school orchestra.  Whoriskey needed a double bass player and convinced Leroy to take the instrument home for the weekend to practice.  When Anderson returned to school on the following Monday, he played the double bass so well that one would have thought he had practiced all year.  At Whoriskey's suggestion Leroy wrote a song for the graduating class of 1923.  Whoriskey appointed Anderson as leader of the school orchestra that year.  Anderson composed a different song for the graduating class in 1924 and again for his own graduation in 1925.  He conducted the school orchestra himself each time.

1926 - 1930: Harvard Years

At Harvard, Leroy studied musical harmony with Walter Spalding, counterpoint with Edward Ballantine, canon and fugue with William C. Heilman, and orchestration with Edward B. Hill and Walter Piston.  Leroy received a B.A., Magna cum laude in 1929 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.  He earned an M.A., Music in 1930.  At Harvard University Graduate School, he studied composition with Walter Piston and Georges Enesco, organ with Henry Gideon, and double bass with Gaston Dufresne of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

He continued his studies at Harvard through the early 1930's, working toward a PhD in German and Scandinavian languages (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Old Norse), while working as a music tutor at Radcliffe College.  A gifted linguist, Leroy eventually mastered Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese, in addition to the English and Swedish of his upbringing.  Not thinking that a career in music held much promise, Anderson intended to become a language teacher.  He applied for and was offered a position at a private school in Pennsylvania.  At the last moment he decided to give music a final try and sent his regrets to the school in Pennsylvania.  This turned out to be a pivotal decision for him.

1931 - 1939: Arranger for the Boston Pops

As a graduate student, Leroy became Director of the Harvard University Band and wrote numerous clever arrangements for the band that brought him to the attention of Arthur Fiedler, Director of the Boston Pops Orchestra.  His first arrangement for Fiedler in 1936 was a medley of Harvard songs - Harvard Fantasy.  In 1938, the Boston Pops performed his first composition, Jazz Pizzicato.  It was an immediate hit.  Fiedler encouraged him to write original compositions for the orchestra.  Leroy wrote Jazz Legato in 1939.  This was followed by a succession of his now famous delightful miniatures.  Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra were the first to perform and record many of these compositions.  During these years Leroy also performed along with his brother Russell in various popular dance orchestras.  They also played on cruise ships of the Norwegian Line crossing between New York and Scandinavia.

1940 - 1945: Military Intelligence during World War II

At the start of World War II, Leroy was drafted as a private into the U.S. Army, which made use of his fluency in languages.  He married Eleanor Jane Firke before shipping off to Iceland where he served as a translator and interpreter in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps, beginning in 1942.  While there he wrote an Icelandic Grammar for the U.S. Army.

Leroy returned to the USA and graduated from Officer's Candidate School in 1943.  He was assigned to the Pentagon as Chief of the Scandinavian Department of Military Intelligence.  Anderson wrote Promenade and The Syncopated Clock in 1945.  Leroy sent the manuscripts to Arthur Fiedler for him to use in rehearsal with the Boston Pops Orchestra.  Leroy then traveled to Boston to conduct the Boston Pops in the premieres of The Syncopated Clock and Promenade.  Soon Leroy was promoted to the rank of Captain.  Eleanor Anderson gave birth to their first child, Jane, who was born while the Andersons lived in Arlington, Virginia.  Leroy was offered the position of U.S. Military Attaché to Sweden but declined, deciding that composing was now to be his sole occupation.  He was released from active duty in the Army in 1946.  The Andersons next moved to New York City.  Their son Eric was born there.

1946 - 1952: International Success

The Andersons spent the summer of 1946 at Painter Hill in Woodbury, Connecticut.  It was here that he started Sleigh Ride during a heat wave, first conceiving the middle section.  After the summer of 1946 was over, Leroy and Eleanor moved to New York City where they lived at 19 Parade Place in Brooklyn in an apartment that had been rented by Eleanor’s uncle who had recently died.  Leroy Anderson completed Sleigh Ride here in February of 1948.  Arthur Fiedler conducted the premiere of Sleigh Ride with the Boston Pops Orchestra in May of 1948.  By December of 1948, New York City department stores were playing Sleigh Ride.

Two years later the Andersons settled in Woodbury permanently, first living with Eleanor's mother in a home on Painter Hill.  Sons Rolf and Kurt were born in the early 1950s.  Leroy and Eleanor hired architect Joseph Stein to create a modernist home for the growing family.  The Andersons moved into their new home at Grassy Hill in Woodbury in October 1953.  The Andersons furnished the house with Danish modern furniture.  Wanting to ensure a quiet environment in which to orchestrate, Leroy had his work room sound-proofed with extra insulation in the walls.  "Yes, I guess you could call it splendid isolation. It's the kind of place a composer needs. In my youth I lived in a Brooklyn apartment and tried to write music while the girl upstairs took turns practicing voice and piano. I was never sure which of her musical aspirations was more frustrating to my work."

During these years at Grassy Hill in Woodbury, Anderson wrote many of his best-loved compositions, among them Blue TangoThe Typewriter, SerenataBelle of the BallBugler's Holiday and Forgotten Dreams.  Sleigh Ride was slowly growing in popularity, not only in the USA and Canada, but also in Europe.  While the music remained unchanged, Leroy allowed translations of the lyrics or new lyrics to Sleigh Ride to be created in French, Italian, Dutch, German, Swedish, and Finnish. 

Leroy formed a string quartet with violinists George Weigl, Dr. Joe James and violist Irma Holst.  Leroy played cello and led the ensemble in performances of classical standards in the large living room at Grassy Hill.  With Anderson and Dr. James living in Woodbury, and Weigl and Holst living in Southbury, the group decided on the name Southwood Quartet.  Having played double bass, trombone and tuba during high school and college, Leroy now played the cello beautifully with the quartet.  As he told a reporter once, "It is a great advantage to play a string instrument when writing for the orchestra.  There is nothing like the feel of the bow.  It is also advantageous to know how to play a wind instrument.  Then you know how to control the breath."

Arthur Fiedler continued to premier Leroy's works including Sleigh RideFiddle-Faddle and Trumpeter's Lullaby, until 1950.  After that, Leroy conducted the premieres of his works when he recorded them for Decca Records.  Among these pieces were Belle of the BallBlue TangoBugler's Holiday, Forgotten DreamsHorse and BuggyPlink, Plank, Plunk!SerenataThe Typewriter and Waltzing Cat.  It was his own recording of Blue Tango that made #1 on the Hit Parade of 1952.  The popularity of Leroy Anderson's music was rapidly spreading around the world.  By 1952, Leroy had established himself as the preeminent American composer of light concert music.

1953 - 1959: Piano Concerto and Musical Theater

Though Leroy primarily utilized the medium of "orchestral miniature," he also experimented with the longer form in his most ambitious work - Concerto in C major for Piano and Orchestra in three movements - Allegro moderato, Anadante and Allegro vivo.  It received its premiere on July 18, 1953 in Chicago by the Grant Park Symphony with Anderson as conductor and Eugene List as soloist.  Anderson conducted another performance of the concerto in Cleveland in 1954.  After mixed reviews he withdrew the composition with intentions to revise it.  He later remarked that he thought the composition had great merit, but that it could be slightly improved.  Although he never got around to making the intended changes, the Anderson family released the work posthumously (unrevised) in 1988.  It is now performed many times around the world each year.

Anderson wrote Goldilocks, his only musical, with Walter and Jean Kerr.  It opened October 11, 1958 in New York City.  While the story was criticized as being weak, critics praised Anderson's score.

1960 - 1969: Television and Guest Conducting

Over the years, Leroy's pieces have been employed as themes in both radio and television.  In the early 1950's, CBS-TV Channel 2 in NYC chose The Syncopated Clock as the theme for its program of movies called The Late Show.  CBS used it for more than 25 years.  Plink, Plank, Plunk! was known to many in the '50's as the theme for the TV game show I've Got a Secret, and The Typewriter has become a favorite for a variety of radio news productions.

During these years Leroy often took his family to New York to see Broadway shows and to visit the sites of the city he and his wife had come to know.  In 1968, the Andersons spent the summer in Europe where the composer introduced his children to a continent where he fit right in.  Back home in Woodbury he was an active member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church which the family regularly attended.  He guest-conducted orchestras throughout the United States, Canada and Sweden.  In the late 1960s, Leroy served on the boards of the New Haven and Hartford Symphonies and also as acting manager of the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra.

1970 - 1975: Final Years

In 1972, the Boston Pops Orchestra paid tribute to Leroy in a televised concert that was broadcast nationwide.  Leroy appeared on the program and guest-conducted one piece.  It was, as he said to his wife Eleanor, "the most important evening of my life."  Leroy returned to Cambridge the following year to conduct the orchestra at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 1973.  Anderson continued to compose and to conduct his music throughout North America until his death from cancer in 1975.

Recent Additions

Leroy Anderson - Jazz Pizzicato - Ensamble de Cuerdas del Conser, 17 Sept 2009

Leroy Anderson - Jazz Pizzicato - Ensamble de Cuerdas del Conser, 17 Sept 2009

The Syncopated Clock, Leroy Anderson~UL Symphony Orchestra~Halloween Concert

The Syncopated Clock, Leroy Anderson~UL Symphony Orchestra~Halloween Concert

Leroy Anderson - The Syncopated Clock (for guitar duet)

Leroy Anderson - The Syncopated Clock (for guitar duet)

Note: This page includes sections of revised and reformatted content from Wikipedia.org.