Leroy Anderson probably wrote one of the best Christmas arrangements ever in 1950 when this piece was published. I have known it since childhood and it has a special place in the hearts of many players.
It is often, however performed very poorly and a look at the tempo structure of the piece can help to improve the experience for players and audience alike.
The first step is to look at the markings and most people get the opening tempo right. After the allargando, if the 152bpm doesn’t happen; and it’s often a dodgy moment, the piece will not be able to function properly.
The tempo has to be lively and when the l’istesso tempo marking arrives in “God Rest Ye…” it does mean keep the speed. This can drag terribly and whn you arrive at “Good King…..” it becomes necessary to speed up to 144bpm instead of easing the tempo down. When you get to “Hark the Herald…” the tempo can ease to 132bpm but on many occasions it drops well below this.
It’s clear that Leroy has carefully planned his tempi to ease with each section to the “Silent Night”part which is not terribly slow it is marked around 86 bpm which stops it from dragging and allows the music to flow. The dynamics are really effective here with a chance fro clarinets to play sotto voce and create a lovely atmosphere.
Picking up the speed for “Jingle Bells” can be tricky and it has to get back to 144bpm. If the balance is right the trombone entry will be heard easily.
There’s no rall. into the 103bpm ending sequence so the triplets can be easily subdivided. Again, this section is often too slow and loses the momentum of the piece.
Finally the 185 bpm ending is a very bright tempo and players need to be prepared for it. If all goes well it’s a great five and a half minutes of any concert in December but if it lasts seven minutes, it loses a lot of the sparkle.
Merry Christmas 2020