5 pieces of classical music inspired by sport | FEATURE

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1.Shirley J. Thompson’s Football Concerto

Written by Shirley J. Thompson to celebrate the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022, this concerto – the first ever for football and orchestra – challenges participants to bounce, juggle or tap a football in time to a rhythm, backed by a full orchestra. Its carefully choreographed moves are designed to help football fans practise their rhythm and coordination skills, and can be performed alone, or in a group. 

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2. Claude Debussy’s Jeux

This short ballet about three young people searching for a lost tennis ball at dusk is one of the least known of Claude Debussy’s works. That might be because it was eclipsed by the scandal of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which also premiered in Paris only two weeks later. Or it might be something to do with Jeux’s rather eccentric quality. Free from full-blown melodies, the 1913 work is rather mercurial, full of syncopated rhythms, and swirls of orchestral colour, with a hint of something sinister waiting in the shadows. It might not be the most accessible of Debussy’s works, but it is no less intriguing for that.

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3. Mourad Merzouki’s Boxe Boxe

‘I was interested in the fact that boxing is not only a violent sport – it is also full of poetry and drama and rhythm and it is very close to dance,’ says French choreographer Mourad Merzouki. That’s why, in this 2011 concoction, he combines boxing and martial arts movement with street dance and classical music, which includes pieces by Schubert, Ravel and Verdi played by the Debussy String Quartet.

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4. Arthur Honegger’s Rugby

While not intended to be programmatic, Honegger’s second tone poem, written in 1928, conjures up the idea of rugby: it hits the listener like a 90 kilo rugby player, with the musical theme passed like a ball from one orchestral section to another. There are various feats of agility from the instruments, while the tension between dissonance and consonance reflects the struggle of the game. 

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5. Jean Sibelius’s The Lonely Ski Trail

Scored for speaker and piano, this 1925 piece based on a poem by Bertel Gripenberg, deals with themes of mortality and solitude.  It’s full of left-hand syncopations accompanying a simple, delicate melody. In 1948, the year after Gripenberg’s death, the 83-year-old Sibelius arranged the piece for speaker, harp and strings.

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