Charles Ives was
unquestionably an American original. Born in Danbury, Conn., on Oct. 20, 1874,
Ives was a ninth-generation New Englander who redefined the boundaries of
American music. "Charles Ives, quite individually and brilliantly turned
the corner from European romanticism, which he had learned quite well, and
translated it into something distinctly American," says James Sinclair,
conductor of Orchestra New England and Executive Editor of the Charles Ives
Society. "He then went beyond and invented a whole new way of using music
to represent America's spirit and to capture American history, people and
events. He freed himself from simple symphonic forms and accompanimental ideas
and, by 'layering,' let music imitate life in the multitude of things that can
happen at once."
Beyond all that
technical stuff, Ives was a big sports fan. And among the quintessentially
American activities he depicted in music were sporting events.
As a youngster,
Ives was gifted at both sports and music. Often, when people who had heard of
his musical talent asked him what he played, he answered "shortstop."
In 1889, he pitched for the Danbury Alerts, a town-league team. Three years
later he was captain of a combined Danbury High-Danbury Academy football team.
At Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven, where Ives was sent in 1893 to prepare
for Yale, he played tennis as well. The highlight of his Hopkins athletic
career came in the spring of '94, when he pitched the baseball team to victory
over Yale's freshman nine.
At Yale, Ives
played intramural ball. In 1898, he was on the senior-class football team and
rowed with the class crew.
He had not,
however, forsaken music. While at Yale, he frequently entertained himself and
his friends with piano improvisations that he called take-offs or stunts. In
these, Ives experimented at the keyboard, often in a humorous vein, taking for
his subject matter the daily events of college life. A decade later, he used
his stunting techniques in creating several pieces of music that were inspired
Probably the best
known of Ives's four baseball compositions is All the Way Around and Back, a
scherzo for piano (four hands), violin, clarinet, trumpet (or bugle) and bells
(or French horn). Ives wrote in Memos, a book about his music, that the piece
depicts "in sounds and rhythms, a very common thing in a back lot—a foul
ball—and the base runner on 3rd has to go all the way back to 1st." All the
Way Around and Back, which was composed sometime before 1908, is simultaneously
an elaborate technical exercise and a musical joke. It grows in complexity for
17 measures, after which there is a note-for-note turnaround that winds back to
In two 1907
orchestral sketches, Giants vs. Cubs and Willy [sic) Keeler at the bat, Ives
whimsically depicts action involving popular big league ballplayers of the day.
Although the two pieces survive only as fragments, they were performed by
several members of Orchestra New England, joined by the Paul Winter Consort, at
a 1974 centenary event that was held on the lawn outside Ives's former home in
West Redding, Conn.
In what remains of
Giants vs. Cubs, Ives pits Chicago second baseman Johnny Evers against Giants
centerfielder "Turkey Mike" Donlin. Scrawled in pencil on Ives's
original sketch is: "NY, Aug. 1907, Polo Grounds. (A) 1st Mike Jaunts out
to C. F, Johnny at Bat, (B) Johnny at bat HITS OVER MIKE'S HEAD. Johnny comes
Marching (sliding) Home Sale."
introductory measures that accompany Donlin's jog to centerfield, the pitcher
delivers the ball—a glide down the strings by the violins. The umpire (trumpet)
barks out the call ("Ball," writes Ives). On the next pitch, the
trumpet calls a strike. After, five pitches the count is full. All of this
drama is spelled out in the margin notes. Regarding the payoff pitch, Ives
writes "Hit" on a musical rest. In the '74 performance, the hit was
conveyed by the sound of a baseball bat striking a two-by-four.
in CF," read the margin notes, as the woodwinds and violins begin a
chromatic scale, first climbing 2� octaves, then coming back down. The scale
represents the are of the ball as it sails over Donlin's head. Meanwhile, the
cornet—"Johnny running around Bases," according to Ives—takes flight.
At the same time, Ives calls forth the theme of When Johnny Comes Marching Home
Again. As the page ends, the margin notes read: "Johnny in a slide, Home
Run, great excitement, all fiddles roll up and down, scratch." Whatever
other musical action occurred between the Giants and the Cubs is forever