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Leroy Anderson

Anderson has been called the "most famous unknown composer" because his music has rooted itself in American culture, becoming as iconic as the flag and apple pie.

He was born into a family of first-generation Swedish immigrants. In 1919, he began his music and piano studies at the New England Conservatory of Music. At Harvard, he studied composition with George Enescu and Walter Piston and earned his M.A. in 1930. He then served as director of the Harvard University Band (1931 - 1935) while pursuing studies in German and the Scandinavian languages. At the same time, he tutored at Radcliffe College and was an organist, instrumentalist, and conductor in Boston. One of his orchestral pieces from this time is the Harvard Fantasy (1936), which was revised in 1969 as A Harvard Festival. His orchestrations and arrangements in Boston and New York (1935 - 1942) were noticed by Arthur Fiedler, then music director of the Boston Pops, who asked Anderson to compose original works for that orchestra. This suggestion led to the miniature tone poem Jazz Pizzicato for string orchestra (1938), followed that same year by Jazz Legato also for strings. In 1942, Anderson married Eleanor Firke and they moved to Woodbury, CT, where they raised four children.

During the war, Anderson served as a translator and interpreter in Iceland and the U.S. Promoted to Chief of the Scandinavian Desk of the Military Intelligence Service, he composed one of his most popular works, The Syncopated Clock (1945), with its delightful percussion writing, while working at the Pentagon.

Arthur Fiedler premiered all of Anderson's works, with their delightful orchestrations and sound effects, through 1950. These included Promenade (1945), Chicken Reel (1946), Serenata (1947), Irish Suite (1947), Fiddle-Faddle for strings (1947), the famous and now seasonally revived Sleigh Ride (1948), A Trumpeter's Lullaby (1949), The Waltzing Cat (1950), and The Typewriter (1950) with its novel imitative effects. Anderson also worked as an orchestrator and arranger (of popular folk tunes, historic marches, and so on) for the Boston Pops during these years, sometimes conducting his own works.

Anderson then signed a contract with Decca Records, which brought out the first performances of pieces such as the 1952 top-of-the-charts hit Blue Tango (1951), for which he received a gold record for more than a million sales; Belle of the Ball (1951); The Penny-Whistle Song (1951); Horse and Buggy (1951); and Plink, Plank, Plunk! for strings (1951). Anderson's most extended composition, the Piano Concerto in C (1953), was withdrawn after its premiere because he wished to make changes to the first movement.

His recorded compositions continued with the orchestral works Sandpaper Ballet (1954), Suite of Carols for strings (1955), the Broadway musical Goldilocks, the ballet Lady in Waiting (1959), Arietta (1962), Balladette (1962), The Captains and the Kings (1962), and Home Stretch (1962). Anderson continued to compose and conduct his music until his death. He was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988.