You already know about the American composer from episode 7 of Backstage Podcast, and you can also listen to Leonora by William Henry Fry on our website (we’ve included some biographical info).

Fun Fact: The Santa Claus Symphony was the first orchestral work to use the saxophone.

While it only takes 26 minutes to listen to William Henry Fry’s Santa Claus Symphony, the work is only one movement long. Fry communicates the following musical scenes in that movement:

  • The birth of Christ
  • A Christmas Eve Party
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • Rock-a-by Baby
  • The appearance of Santa Claus

The Santa Claus Symphony by William Henry Fry is Programmatic

Most would refer to this style of composition as “programmatic” in nature. Here’s how Wikipedia defines programmatic music:

“Program music is a term usually applied to any musical composition on the classical music tradition in which the piece is designed according to some preconceived narrative, or is designed to evoke a specific idea and atmosphere.”

Perhaps the most striking feature of Fry’s Santa Claus Symphony is the use of saxophone—as far as we know, this is the first recorded use of the saxophone in orchestral music.

The one-movement symphony debuted in 1853, eight years after Fry premiered Leonora in Philadelphia. Audiences enjoyed it, and other than his Niagara Symphony, Fry’s “Christmas Special” might be his most famous work in modern times.

While the piece received only marginal support from critics (they thought it was fun, but didn’t view it as a serious piece of art), audiences have enjoyed William Henry Fry’s Santa Claus Symphony ever since.

For additional information, check out the Naxos website or