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Music Inspired by Sports

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The composer William Schuman’s first passion was baseball not music. Claude Debussy was a tennis enthusiast. Edward Elgar followed the Wolverhampton Wanderers, a soccer team. Stephan Moccio recently told The Canadian Press that composing the theme of the upcoming Winter Olympics was like winning his own gold medal. On the eve of the Super Bowl and the Vancouver Games, it’s time to look at the music these athletic events inspired. Here are the Top 5 sports themed compositions:

1. Charles Ives, once a member of the Yale football team, went to great lengths to capture the anticipation, the excitement and even the rivalry in a college game with Yale-Princeton Football Game. Listen closely and you can hear the cheers, a referee’s whistle and the Bulldog quarterback picking up 55 yards. Yale wins, of course, 6-0.

2. His last major piece for orchestra, Debussy’s Jeux is also one of his most difficult. Whether its intricacies were inspired by the game of tennis is uncertain, but the subject matter of the ballet he intended it for most certainly comes from the court. It depicts three players in search of a lost ball.

3. Since the introduction of the modern Olympics in 1896, composers have written odes to these hallowed games. Spyros Samaras, Leonard Bernstein and John Williams have each contributed anthems. Richard Strauss conducted his Olympic Hymn for chorus and orchestra at the opening ceremonies of the controversial 1936 Berlin Games.

4. Five years after he composed his impressions of a rumbling train in Pacific 231, Arthur Honegger put a rugby game to music in his second symphonic movement, appropriately entitled Rugby. Separate themes compete like sides to gain the advantage, culminating in a victorious final chord.

5. In his later years, Gioachino Rossini stopped writing operas but composed shorter pieces like the three song cycle, La regata veneziana. The narrator Anzoleta advises, then cheers and finally congratulates her suitor Momolo, who wins the Venetian gondola race.