Category Archives: Sports and games

Metastasio and the Olympic Games

Pietro Metastasio’s popular libretto L’Olimpiade publicized and transmitted a particular ideological and historicized conception of the ancient Olympic Games that would ultimately contribute to the rationalization and legitimization of Pierre de Coubertin’s idiosyncratic Olympic ideology, a philosophical religious doctrine that embraced a noble and honorable conception of sport at the same time as it served discrete class, race, and gendered ends.

The hegemony of the contemporary Olympic Games movement is grounded in part on the appropriation of the classicism and Romanticism transmitted in Metastasio’s work. In narrative, music, and production, L’Olimpiad sustained a particular image of the games, an image that nourished Coubertin’s formulation as it paved the way for further musical representations of the Games that to this day lend authority to a musically transmitted, mythologized, and Hellenized past.

This according to “Music as sport history: The special case of Pietro Metastasio’s L’Olimpiade and the story of the Olympic Games” by Jeffrey O. Seagrave, an essay included in Sporting sounds: Relationships between sport and music (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009, pp. 113–27).

The 2018 Winter Olympics opens today! Above, a production of Josef Mysliveček’s setting of Metastasio’s L’Olimpiade; below, excerpts from Pergolesi’s setting.

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Pavarotti sings for soccer

The group New Order’s World in motion, commissioned by the British Football Association to mark the 1990 World Cup soccer finals, “is probably the least likely official football theme song ever recorded: Denying its own status as a football song, introducing elements of subcultural love lyrics, and becoming a gay club hit, but also assuming the burden of combating football’s major peripheral problem, hooliganism, the song is ultimately unheimlich, even despite its closing chorus that speaks of ‘playing for England; playing this song.’”

This according to “Playing for England” by Paul Smith (South Atlantic quarterly 90/4 [fall 1991] pp. 737–752). Smith goes on to note that “both the BBC and the independent television companies forewent the pleasure of having ‘Love’s got the world in motion’ going across the airwaves every night, and the BBC used as their World Cup theme another piece of music that quickly became a number one hit: Luciano Pavarotti singing his version of the Nessun dorma aria from Turandot.”

Today would have been Pavarotti’s 80th birthday! Below, singing Nessun dorma in 1994.

BONUS: By way of contrast, New Order’s song:

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Filed under Curiosities, Mass media, Opera, Popular music, Reception, Sports and games

Charles Ives and baseball

Charles Ives baseball

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 DonlinJohnny 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.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Sports and games

America’s most famous bugler

Steve Buttleman

For 15 seconds a year, Steve Buttleman is the most famous man in America.

On the first Saturday of every May, wearing his famous red jacket and black cap, he marches from the white pagoda behind the Churchill Downs Winner’s Circle, lifts a bugle to his lips, and plays Call to post, cuing the jockeys to lead their horses to the starting gate.

Buttleman plays for the spring and fall meets as well as the Kentucky Derby, often performing Call to post as many as eleven times a day.

This according to “America’s most famous bugler” by Patrick Wensink (The Oxford American 1 May 2013; the article is here). Above and below, Mr. Buttleman’s 15 seconds of fame.

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Ice dance defined

ice dance

The term ice dance was coined for attempts to perform ballroom dances on the ice, and to create ballroom-style dances that could be performed on skates.

The genre was added to the figure skating World Championships in the early 1950s, and it became an Olympic sport in 1976. Ice dancers began to incorporate more and more elements of ballet and theatrical training into their performances, and by the mid-1980s leading dance teams were steadily moving ice dance away from its social-dance origins toward the domain of art dance.

While athleticism remained at the forefront, the lines between sport and art were starting to blur, and in 1992 the International Olympic Committee tightened the rules to steer ice dancing back toward ballroom dancing. It remains to be seen whether ice dancing will continue to be defined narrowly, or whether all forms of expressive skating to music will eventually be considered dance.

This according to What is the “dance” in ice dance? by Ellyn Kestnbaum (Proceedings of the Society for Dance History Scholars 22 [1999] pp. 243–248). Below, the Gold Medalists at the 2012 Olympics.

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Connect 4™ music

Connect 4

MIDI-Connect4 is a program that composes music from the unfolding of a board game, Hasbro’s Connect 4.

The system uses evolutionary computation to evolve from scratch a neural network that plays the Connect 4 game. Music is produced when a user plays the game against the system. The system generates music by associating the moves of each player with musical forms (see above).

The program was inspired by a musical event called Reunion, which was conceived by John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, and Teeny Duchamp in 1968, in which sounds were spatially distributed around a concert audience as a chess game unfolded.

This according to “Composition as game strategy: Making music by playing board games against evolved artificial neural networks” by Eduardo Reck Miranda and Qijun Zhang, an article included in Proceedings of the 31st International Computer Music Conference (San Francisco: International Computer Music Association, 2005).

Below, the game’s intrinsic acoustical properties.

Related articles:

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Science, Sports and games

Vodici: A midwinter swim

In Macedonia the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist on 7 January is celebrated with Vodici, a musical ceremony that involves the high priest throwing a cross into a nearby body of water.

The waters are baptized through this act, but the real attraction is the local youths plunging into the icy water to retrieve the cross. The one who finds it becomes a local hero, and is believed to be blessed for the entire ensuing year.

This according to “Водичарски обреди и водичарско певање у Македонији” (The Vodici ritual and singing in Macedonia) by Rodna Veličkovska in Научни скуп Дани Владе Милошевића: Зборник радова (The conference Dani Vlade Miloševića: Collection of essays; Banja Luka: Akademija Umjetnosti, 2008).

Below, excerpts from the church and waterside ceremonies in Bitola.

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Filed under Europe, Sports and games