A Great Leroy Anderson Composition
Analysed by Robert Walton
The period immediately following World War 2 and beyond was particularly creative for light music on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact in many ways it could be said to be the rebirth of the genre. Inspired by David Rose it produced a dazzling array of original material from the likes of Edward White, Clive Richardson, Sidney Torch, Trevor Duncan, Angela Morley and of course Robert Farnon. Just as the big bands had dominated the music scene a few years before, now it was the turn of light orchestras to have their day. With the rise of the singer, almost overnight light orchestras came into their own providing a valuable contribution to the extraordinary variety of popular music on offer. And the vocalists weren’t slow in taking advantage of the expertise of the new breed of arrangers for their backings.
In America it was an arranger for the then Boston Promenade Orchestra who emerged into the limelight as the country’s most important composer in this specialised field - Leroy Anderson. He might not have been as progressive as some of the others but he certainly had a commercial flare with numbers like Blue Tango, Syncopated Clock, Sleigh Ride, Forgotten Dreams, The Typewriter and Sandpaper Ballet.
One of his earliest compositions written in 1947 was the perpetually mobile Fiddle Faddle. It may have seemed a million miles away from its prototype Holiday for Strings but it’s closer than you think. Essentially the format was much the same with its quick fire opening and broad sweeping middle tune. In Fiddle Faddle the method of performance is in reverse order. Bowed strings first, pizzicato second. The main difference is the start of the bridge with its welcome pizzicato relief from the bustling non-stop opening section and then the strings returning to arco, divide. The lower ones play the tune while the upper ones provide the icing (an idea later borrowed by Ray Martin).
But let’s take a closer look at this woodwindless string feature Fiddle Faddle. According to the dictionary fiddle faddle is silly talk or an unimportant piece of trivia. Perhaps not a very flattering description of the Anderson standard but at the same time a clever play on words. Like Holiday for Strings all this constant activity keeps the orchestra very much on its toes rather like an exercise.
The intro has all the hallmarks of the lead-in to a Sousa march. The first phrase is identical to Three Blind Mice but because the violins are doing a double act playing the melody and embellishments at the same time, the tune is somewhat disguised. This is followed by a scale-like descending passage. As the piece progresses there is a definite feeling of a square dance trying to get out especially with the extreme syncopation and the decoration in the middle section.
Shortly after the first chorus the music briefly comes to a halt answered by a lower syncopated note followed by another a few bars later a little higher. I can’t help speculating what Robert Farnon or Malcolm Arnold might have done with those. They would have certainly been more daring and ‘wrong’. But Leroy Anderson was one of the old school and wouldn’t have gone down that road. However it must be said he was far more advanced than he’s generally given credit for. What about the beautiful harmonies of Serenata? His work had a freshness about it with some highly original concepts and titles and his sense of humour was never far away. If anything his compositions are more closely allied to classical music. For starters try his excellent piano concerto. Fiddle Faddle in particular may well have its roots in the music of the Swedish composer Hugo Alfven. Coincidentally Anderson himself is of Swedish descent!
David Rose was by no means the only American orchestra to influence British composers. Many of them fell under the spell of Anderson’s melodic magic which ironically had quite a bit of Englishness about it. From a little acorn called Fiddle Faddle, grew dozens of Anderson gems into a giant musical oak tree of unprecedented fertility.
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