Leroy Anderson: The Typewriter
Composed in 1950 during a trip to Woodbury, Connecticut, Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter is one of his most iconic works. Anderson conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra to make a recording of the piece in 1953. Since then The Typewriter has been arranged for string orchestra, brass and wind bands, among other ensembles.
A real typewriter is actually used in this work, which must be able to offer three basic and essential noises: typing clicks, a bell, and the typewriter carriage returning to the first position. Most performances, especially today, will use a standard desk bell for the ring, which is just as effective. The ring of the bell signifies that the typewriter is approaching the end of the line before snapping back into a new line.
The typewriter for this performance is more often than not modified, as it is too difficult to type as fast as Anderson requires. Even professional stenographers struggle with the speed, with only percussionists often being able to keep up with their inherent wrist strength. The typewriter is thus modified so that only two keys work, so it is a fluctuation between two keys that make the typing sound. Due to this, it is often a percussionist or drummer that plays the part, with the typewriter being considered a percussion instrument.
Opening with a cheeky descending passage led by the violins, muted trumpets lead the way for the typewriter’s entry. The strings play a fast melody line, which is played in unison with the typewriter. At first, the bell is rung on the third beat of every fourth bar, with the slide on the fourth beat, so the next phrase starts on the downbeat of the next bar. Anderson plays around with this until it’s almost a surprise when the bell is rung.
The use of syncopation adds to the comedy of the piece, with muted brass interjections playing with the bell at one point. The orchestra then start a conversation with the typewriter as they play a figure before the typewriter rings and slides in the silent bars. This adds some more playfulness to the piece, showing the intricate dialogue between the soloist and orchestra.
A reprise of the opening closes this playful piece as the typewriter incessantly types before the final bell and low note from the strings.
Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter has been described as “one of the wittiest and most clever pieces in the orchestral repertoire”. Although typewriters have more or less died out in today’s world, the piece is still a hit with ensembles. The comedy that oozes from the music can make for a great performance from the right soloist.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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