The Syncopated Clock

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"The Syncopated Clock" is a piece of light music by American composer Leroy Anderson, which has become a feature of the pops orchestra repertoire.

Composition[edit]

Anderson wrote "The Syncopated Clock" in 1945 while serving with the U.S. Army and assigned as Chief of the Scandinavian Desk of Military Intelligence in Washington.[1] Anderson had been invited by Arthur Fiedler to guest-conduct the Boston Popular ("Pops") Orchestra during their annual Harvard Night. Anderson wanted to introduce a new work to Fiedler and composed a song about a clock with a syncopated rhythm. The idea of the title reportedly occurred to him before he wrote the music. In a few hours he wrote the music, scored it for orchestra and then mailed it to Boston Symphony Hall. Fiedler had the orchestra parts copied from the score. Then, with a three-day pass, Anderson traveled from his home in Arlington, Virginia to Boston, where he conducted the premiere on May 28, 1945. Anderson recorded the work for Decca Records in 1950 with the best musicians selected from various New York orchestras. This was true for all of his recordings for Decca, billed as "Leroy Anderson and his Orchestra". Anderson's "orchestra" was an assemblage of musicians hired by Decca specially for Anderson's recordings.[2] The album, catalog number 16005, entered the charts on March 23, 1951 and spent 14 weeks on chart, reaching number twelve,[3] while a version credited to the Boston Pops Orchestra (released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 10-3044) entered on June 1, 1951, spent two weeks on the charts, and reached number 28.[3]

When "The Syncopated Clock" was recorded in 1950, it was noticed by the producers of a new WCBS-TV program called The Late Show, a nightly program with a format of old movies that was to be the station's first venture into late night television. The piece was chosen as the theme music for The Late Show and that helped publicize Anderson's music. The "Syncopated Clock" was used by the show for the next 25 years, and became a piece that many Americans could readily hum or whistle, even if few would have known the name of its composer.[2]

Movie theme[edit]

Listeners are probably most familiar with the version recorded by Percy Faith in 1951 (released by Columbia Records as catalog number 39328, with the flip side “On Top of Old Smokey[4]). It is this version that CBS (for whose Columbia Records label Faith recorded) chose to introduce The Late Show—the late night movie—on some of its owned-and-operated stations, most notably WCBS-TV in New York City[5][6] and WBBM-TV in Chicago. WCBS would also use that recording to introduce a weekday afternoon movie (The Early Show) and a later-night movie offering, The Late Late Show.

Structure[edit]

The arrangement requires temple blocks to be used as the sound of the clock which is heard throughout the number, except for a brief section in the middle. The piece is in 4/4 time; the opening establishes a perfectly regular "tick-tock" accompaniment, beginning with a roll off the orchestra's staccato strike of an A chord, creating an expectation that it will continue. In the sixth measure, there is an eighth-note rest on the second beat, and two syncopated "ticks" are heard before the "clock" returns to its normal rhythm. As the piece proceeds, the "clock" continues to indulge in brief moments of syncopation. Some are expected by the listener (as the tune repeats the passage in which the first syncopation occurred); others are not, creating a whimsical and comic effect. The song's basic arrangement and comical effect makes it a favourite for school bands.

Other recordings[edit]

References[edit]