Sunday, December 5, 2010
Just hear those sleigh bells ring-a-ling ...
Say what you want about Messiah or the Christmas Oratorio. For me, the season doesn’t start until I hear LeRoy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” And it has to be the original orchestral version, with the clip-clopping and the whip snapping and the neighing at the end — none this Johnny-Mathis-coffee-and-pumpkin-pie-by-the-fire bullshit. This year I was fortunate to hear it early — the day after Thanksgiving over a car radio. So now I’m in the holiday mood. It won’t last, so I’ll take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy (insert your holiday here).
Anderson (1908-75) was my favorite composer for a little while when I was a teenager. (Am I square or what?) I don’t listen to him much anymore, but I’ve always been grateful to him for teaching me how to listen to an orchestra at a time when no one I know was listening to orchestras. His music still occupies a little soft spot in my heart. It’s wonderful, light stuff, very catchy and tuneful — the equal, in its bouncy American way, of Johann Strauss the younger, imho.
I once had the pleasure of speaking to Anderson’s widow. I had to double check a title or something for an article, and I went to the LeRoy Anderson website and found a phone number to call for information. I called the number and left a message, and within an hour or so Mrs. Anderson herself called me back. I was stunned. We spoke for a long while, as I recall. She seemed genuinely happy anyone would take an interest in her husband’s music, and I was surprised to learn that the Andersons knew the Elliott Carters. Carter and Anderson were born the same year, both attended Harvard at the same time, and for a while they lived “right down the road” from one another, as Mrs. Anderson put it — the Carters in Waccabuc, New York, the Andersons just over the line in Connecticut.
Besides being classmates and composers, Carter and Anderson shared a talent for languages. Carter speaks French and Italian and reads German and Greek and Latin and heaven knows what else. Anderson, the son of Swedish immigrants, mastered all of the Scandinavian tongues.