Baseball played an important part in Charles Ives’s life, music, and writings; it was a place where he proved himself as a man, and it provided a framework within which he could build new musical ideas. Ives’s identity as a U.S. composer links him to this game, and a brief chronology of baseball history demonstrates significant changes in the game over the course of his lifetime (1874–1954).
Baseball provided Ives with a vehicle to establish his masculine identity, counterbalancing societal and self views of his musical participation as feminine. His pieces and unfinished sketches about baseball provided a vehicle for him to invent new musical ideas in reference to specific baseball situations that he could use as part of his basic musical language in later pieces.
Analyses of Ives’s baseball-related completed pieces (All the way around and back, Some southpaw pitching, Old home day, The fourth of July) and unfinished sketches (Take-off #3: Rube trying to walk 2 to 3!!, Take-off #7: Mike Donlin–Johnny Evers, and Take-off #8: Willy Keeler at the bat), compared with passages from later works, reveal these associations.
This according to Baseball and the music of Charles Ives: A proving ground by Timothy A. Johnson (Lanham: Scarecrow, 2004).
Today is Ives’s 140th birthday! Above, the Danbury Alerts, ca. 1890; a young Charles Ives is the first seated player from the left. Below, James Sykes plays Study no. 21: Some southpaw pitching.