Thursday, May 10, 2007

Anachronistic Nostalgia

Yesterday I was at a noontime concert by the Russian Chamber Orchestra at which the formal program of Vivaldi and Borodin was followed by Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter" as an encore. It was hard to listen to this without a sense of nostalgia, even if, back in my days as a card-carrying music theorist, any mention of Anderson's name amounted to a gesture several levels beneath the absurd. Nevertheless, it was impossible to grow up with television in the Fifties and not be aware of Anderson; so, by all rights, we should be able to speak of him now without feelings of guilt!

I am not quite sure why conductor Alexander Vereshagin chose this as an encore, but I have to wonder how he came to know the piece in the first place. It certainly made a nice "fit" to his small string ensemble; but it was more than a little odd to hear the typewriter part being played on the snare drum. This set me to wondering how many people in the audience, let alone the ensemble, had any sense of the sound of a typewriter (and, of course, Anderson had a manual model in mind)! I remember the days (or at least recordings from those days) when the Budapest String Quartet used to perform in Washington on instruments owned by the Library of Congress and wondered if now we would have to draw upon the Smithsonian if we wanted to give an "authentic" performance of this work! (Actually, when I visited Cambodia my entry visa was prepared on a manual typewriter; but that is now more than a decade ago!)

Of course Anderson is not the only "victim" of this new "challenge of authenticity." Erik Satie's ballet Parade also requires a typewriter for the "Petite fille Américaine" scene. I assume there are still a few dance companies around trying to maintain that work in repertoire. It may be harder for a ballet orchestra to come by a manual typewriter than it is for an opera orchestra to borrow a Wagner tuba! Perhaps I should start asking questions about these problems over at the San Francisco Conservatory!

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