Of all the pieces of orchestral music to now signify the festive spirit of the Christmas season, Sleigh Ride is perhaps the most recognisable.


It was written by American composer Leroy Anderson, who was America’s king of light concert music.

The Boston Pops/John Williams perform Sleigh Ride

Anderson had every intention of becoming a languages teacher, having himself mastered at least nine – including his parents’ native Swedish.

Musical study, and practice, played a big part of Anderson’s life whilst growing up. His mother was an organist and his father played the mandolin.

A natural gift for music, and the ability to seemingly master any instrument he got his hands on, meant the young musician was in demand.

Throughout his education in Cambridge, Massaschussetts, including at Harvard, Anderson played in school bands, led orchestras and wrote class songs.

A teaching job was offered, but Anderson felt the need to pursue his love of music and turned the offer down. He never looked back.

In the mid ’30s he began supplying arrangements for conductor Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra; then followed his own compositions.

To make ends meet he played in dance bands and on transatlantic cruise ships.

War intervened and Anderson was drafted into US Army Intelligence, which took advantage of his linguistic skills. He found himself posted to Iceland as a translator, before working at the Pentagon where he was Chief of the Scandinavian Department of Military Intelligence.

Music beckoned again and he turned down the role of Military Attaché to Sweden in order to focus on his composing once his service came to an end in 1946.

He began composing Sleigh Ride in 1946 while summering in Connecticut and completed it in his Brooklyn apartment in 1948.

Fiedler and the Boston Pops premiered Sleigh Ride in May 1948 and recorded it the following year. It quickly became a popular tune, and even more so in 1950 when Mitchell Parish added lyrics.

The song version has been recorded by many artists from The Andrews Sisters to The Ronettes via the Spice Girls.

The Ronettes sing 'Sleigh Ride' (1963)

Anderson would go on to pen many more so-called ‘orchestral miniatures’, including The Typewriter, Plink, Plank Plunk!, A Trumpeter’s Lullaby and The Syncopated Clock.

He also composed a piano concerto (in 1954) and one Broadway musical – Goldilocks (1958).

Anderson died in 1975, just a few years after a Boston Pops televised tribute concert that the composer called the most important evening of his life.



Michael BeekReviews Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of MusicfromtheMovies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.