“Just hear those sleigh bells jingle-ing, ring-ting tingle-ing too, come on, it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you." These words in the introduction to Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride" bring its listeners along for the ride to enjoy the glide of the sleigh, the trotting of the horses, and the jingle of the harness bells. In 19th century New England, going out for a sleigh ride in groups of two or more was a popular winter experience. By the mid-20th century, this tradition had all but died out, but it was alive in the nostalgia for times gone by. Let's take a look at some of the music inspired by these sleigh rides of yesteryear.
The Boston Pops Orchestra performed the premier of this “Sleigh Ride” in 1948, but it had its beginning on a hot August day in 1946 while Leroy Anderson was digging in his yard in Woodbury, Connecticut. Perhaps it was that hot and sweaty work that brought to mind a crisp, wintry day spent having fun with friends. In 1950, the Andrews Sisters added lyrics by Mitchell Parish to the song. Ever since then, the three-minute long piece has been a standard part of winter holiday musical fare for singers and instrumentalists alike.
“Jingle Bells” is also a song about going out for a ride in a sleigh, but this one originated in 1857 under the title of “One Horse Open Sleigh.” It was written by another New Englander, James Pierpont, who had intended the song to be sung around Thanksgiving. The oldest printed music the library owns of this song is from 1882, where it is a part of a collection titled “Minstrel Songs Old and New.” You can see this songbook online, opens a new window, and “One Horse Open Sleigh” is on page 156. It being contained in a collection of minstrel songs is not an accident. This and other sleighing songs of the mid-19th century were intended to be sung in blackface on stage. Kyna Hamill writes about this at length in their article, "The Story I Must Tell" from Volume 58, Issue 3 of the journal Theatre Survey, published in September 2017.
New England was of course not the only place that enjoyed sleigh rides in the winter. Several European composers took their inspiration from this pastime to write music, too. In German, the translation of sleigh ride is Schlittenfahrt. The library possesses three works written in the 1700s written by three different composers bearing that title: Die Schlittenfahrt Als Kindersymphonie (also known as Die musikalische Schlittenfahrt (The Musical Sleigh-ride)) by Leopold Mozart, German Dance No. 3 - Schlittenfahrt K. 605 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Die Schlittenfahrt by Franz Ferdinandi.
In Russia, a sleigh pulled by three horses is known as a troika. There are musical examples of one written by both Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Sergey Prokofiev: Troika (also known as November) from The Seasons for solo piano by the former and the Troika from the Lieutenant Kije Suite for orchestra by the latter.
There are also examples from France and England: La promenade en traîneau from Petite Suite en Quinze Images by Jacques Ibert, and Sleigh Ride by Frederick Delius.
Sleigh ride (for simplified piano)
20th Century Classics: Delius ("Sleigh Ride")
Weihnachten ("Musikalische Schlittenfahrt")
Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky; Scythian Suite; Lieutenant Kije ("Troika" from Lieutenant Kije)