Carols Without Words
Leroy Anderson

That wonderfully inventive composer and arranger Leroy Anderson (1908–1975) may be best known at Christmas time for his Sleigh Ride, with the neighing trumpet horses at the end. However, in 1950, he created a lovely arrangement for the Boston Pops of Christmas carols woven into a seamless Christmas Festival.

Leroy Anderson

Leroy Anderson

A treat for the orchestra and audience alike, the work combines eight popular carols plus Jingle Bells to create a concert overture that uses the full colour of the orchestra to bring out the different elements of the carols.

Pizzicato strings, triumphant trumpets with emphasizing percussion, and sweet woodwinds each contribute their sound to the mix and make individual settings for each of the carols. The tweeting woodwinds of ‘Good King Wenceslas’ are replaced by the rising trumpets of the ‘Herald Angels,’ and story carols, such as ‘The First Nowell,’ use the trumpets in a different way. Strings and harps quietly evoke the ‘Silent Night.’ Finally, we have the triumphal ending, with the organ of the full orchestra, on ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’.

Leroy Anderson: A Christmas Festival (BBC Concert Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, cond.)

Can you list what you heard? ‘Joy to the World’, ‘Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly’, ‘God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen’, ‘Good King Wenceslas’, ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, ‘The First Nowell’, ‘Silent Night’, ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’.

In 1955, he did it again (and again and again). He was putting music together for a holiday album, but he didn’t want to make a standard carol medley. Instead, he made three arrangements for different performing ensembles. His Suites of Carols includes a Suite of Carols for Brass Choir, a Suite of Carols for String Orchestra, and a Suite of Carols for Wind Ensemble, putting together a total of 19 different carols.

His Suite of Carols for Brass Choir combines 7 different carols:

I. While by my Sheep
II. In Dulci Jubilo
III. Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
IV. I Saw Three Ships
V. From Heaven High I Come to You
VI. We Three Kings of Orient Are
VII. March of the Kings

Leroy Anderson: Suite of Carols for Brass Choir (BBC Concert Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, cond.)

In the Suite of Carols for String Orchestra, he combined 6 different carols, bringing in, for the first time, carols outside the English tradition, including the Spanish villancico, ‘Los Pastores a Belen’, and ‘Un flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle’. The latter’s original melody was used for dancing in 17th century Provence, rather than as a Christmas song. It was also used as a drinking song in the 1672 revival of Molière’s Le médecin malgré lui. It moved into the English carol tradition in the 18th century.

I. Pastores a Belen
II. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
III. O Little Town of Bethlehem
IV. Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabelle
V. Away in a Manger
VI. Wassail Song

Leroy Anderson: Suite of Carols for String Orchestra (BBC Concert Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, cond.)

The last Suite, for woodwind ensemble, gathers together six more carols, including the plaintive ‘Coventry Carol’ and ‘Patapan’, another French carol. Listen to the fun Anderson has with the lower woodwinds!

I. Angels in our Fields
II. O Sanctissima
III. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
IV. O Come Little Children
V. Coventry Carol
VI. Patapan

Leroy Anderson: Suite of Carols for Woodwind Ensemble – VI. Patapan (BBC Concert Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, cond.)

Anderson’s take on the carol tradition brings out the countermelodies and counterpoint in the songs often hidden by the singers. The 1955 holiday album, Leroy Anderson: Christmas Carols (Decca DL-8193) was recorded with his own orchestra, rather than the Boston Pops with whom he normally worked.

Leroy Anderson: Christmas Carols, 1955 (Decca DL-8193)

Leroy Anderson: Christmas Carols, 1955 (Decca DL-8193)

For more of the best in classical music, sign up for our E-Newsletter

More Inspiration

Leave a Comment

All fields are required. Your email address will not be published.