The Nationals Pastime, or, From the New Season
Hola, amigos. I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but various life things have been dragging my attention from (a) classical concerts and (b) writing about classical music. Plus there was that fun detour where DMV Classical attempted to prove its worth as an Arts Blog in a challenge. Finishing in the bottom six blog entries in Round 2 (since they let two tied people swell the ranks of what should have been the Elite Eight, and one person actually quit on the contest midway) was initially a bitter pill to swallow, but the succeeding questions were not ones I want to write about anyway, so who cares. All any reader of DMV Classical needs to know about the question “Many countries have ministries of culture. Does America need a Secretary of Culture or Secretary of the Arts? Why or why not?” is that in Chocolate City, Stevie Wonder is the Secretary of Fine Arts. (Seated Ovation is right on target, though.)
One of the things that has stolen my attention from classical music and blogging is baseball. I go to 20 or 25 Nationals games a year even when they’re awful, and it just so happens that this year they are awesome, in first place for much of the year on the backs of their unmatched starting five. Attendance at Nationals games is a classical-free zone unless you count the soundtrack music to HBO’s John Adams miniseries, which always swells to accompany images of Nats players excelling in a pregame montage. (Or unless Glenn Donnellan is playing the Anthem, of course.) The most purely musical satisfaction I get during the games is probably the Earth, Wind & Fire hits played at the seventh-inning stretch.
During an idle moment (of which baseball has a blessed surplus), I began wondering: If I had the talent to become a pro ballplayer, could I possibly sneak in a classical work as an at-bat song, or a pitcher’s introduction song? Is there something that begins with a compact enough statement of its purpose and has enough energy, swagger, and sheer power that it can stand up alongside Roger Bernadina’s French song about dancing?
It turns out that you can think through a whole bunch of the classical canon and come upon nothing useful, for the following reasons:
- Minor-key classical works often boast imposing beginnings (Bach’s BWV 565, Mussorgsky’s Bald Mountain) but lack the heroic dimension. In the case of these, your at-bat or relief appearance would sound like a horror film, which would be appropriate for many players on previous Nats teams, but mostly not this one. (Looking at you, Xavier Nady.)
- Lots of pieces theoretically have the requisite energy and swagger but in fact would sound like some kind of ironic invitation to teatime, like the overture to “The Marriage of Figaro.”
- Pieces that I think of as being in the heroic mode take way too long to develop. They also often have contrasting themes that spoil the mood. The Waldstein Sonata is a prime example here. The opening is too long for an at-bat song, where you have just a few seconds to get the job done, but then it falters almost immediately, which will not impress any opposing hitters who will be facing you in the top of the eighth.
I thought my errand was hopeless until the oeuvre of Antonin Dvorak popped into my head. The eighth Slavonic Dance was the first one to suggest itself, but even better is the fourth movement of his ninth symphony, the super-famous “From the New World.” This has it all: dark energy from the minor key but no tragic or horrific dimension, swagger and energy to spare, and a main theme so unfadeable that Kanye West sampled it. (Click the link — that really happened!) The main theme by itself would be enough for at-bat music, but I’d definitely enjoy coming out of the bullpen as the “Jaws”-y intro hyped itself into that resolute theme. At the very least, it would be superior to Ryan Mattheus’ song, which is Katy Perry’s “Firework” for some reason.