Theme and Variations

Thoughts and experiences of exploring classical, jazz, and other art music.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Sleigh Rides

Looking out the window at the snow this winter, I was reminded of something I became aware of a few years back. Nearly everyone is familiar with Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride"; it was played 17,361 times from December 12-19, 2005 topping the charts for the week. This classic was composed during a July heat wave while Anderson lived in Woodbury, Connecticut. It is energetic, witty, unpretentious and distinctly American. However, there are many more "Sleigh Rides" that may not be as well known. I happened to hear one of these many recordings on the radio a few years back, which the announcer reported as the Divertimento for orchestra in F major "Musical Sleigh Ride" by Leopold Mozart, father of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I later discovered that Tchaikovsky had written a “Sleigh Ride” as part of the Seasons Op. 37a.

These are all very different pieces. Anderson's "Sleigh Ride" conjures visions of horses trotting briskly, bells jingling merrily and snow flying behind the sleigh. Leopold Mozart's sleigh ride is more of a promenade, perhaps a larger, more majestic sleigh. The other (seldom performed) by Tchaikovsky is a magical romantic version of a sleigh ride in a Russian wonderland of snow and ice.
But wait, there are more. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote his own “Sleigh Ride” as part of German Dances. It is a short piece, as is the one written by Prokofiev called “Troika”(a sleigh pulled by 3 horses abreast). The Prokofiev version was written for the film "Lieutenant Kije. Prokofiev wrote two versions of this piece an instrumental one, and another for orchestra and baritone, both very short.And Norwegian composer Frederick Delius, as part of Three Small Tone Poems, wrote the “#2 Sleigh Ride” It was written originally as a piano piece but was orchestrated shortly thereafter and starts as a dance punctuated by sleigh bells but quickly changes to the full, rich orchestral sound that characterizes the work of Delius. Are there others? I suspect that there are-this is by no means a complete list. Many of the great composers lived in Russia, Germany and Austria at a time when the sleigh (or troika) was very common. Living in the land of snow and ice myself (Vermont), I am often tempted by the sleighs for rent locally. Perhaps I will take a sleigh ride of my own this winter.


Blogger Howard Freeman said...

for orchestra and baritone, both very short.And Norwegian composer

Space between words are required. Oh and Delius was a British composer not a Norwegian

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I could find a CD that had all these sleigh rides on them!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This site put me on a mission. I have found most of the variations of Sleigh Ride and put them on one disc. It has been a wonderful gift to give to my friends for Christmas along with you page. Thank you for the insite and sharing your love of music.


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