Review - Olympic Music Feature (2004)
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Olympics Music Feature

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski

The stirring music used during the Olympic Games of the past 50 plus years has always been exalting in nature, but it owes a particular debt to both the world of film music and the world of classical music. The famous and universally loved Olympic Fanfare, for example, is a piece written by Leo Arnaud, a composer known for his Hollywood film scoring. It is part of a larger work entitled Bugler’s Dream, and it was first used during the Olympic broadcasts in 1968. You are hearing that original recording.

Another celebrated Olympic Theme was written by John Williams, perhaps the world’s best known film composer. It is also justly famous, second only to Arnaud’s theme in popularity.

Another film-connected Olympic Theme, was composed by Greek film-composer, Mikis Theodorakis. His piece was called Ode to Zeus and was written for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

But classical music has provided notable contributions as well. Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich was represented at the 1980 Games in Moscow with his famous Festive Overture serving as the principal theme.

And speaking of classical music, the second part of Arnaud’s Olympic Theme, which was scored for French horns, proved to be too difficult for orchestras to play, so they used trumpets instead--that is until the great virtuosos of the Cleveland Orchestra recorded the piece with the original tricky French horn parts--and you can really hear the difference here.

And even Richard Strauss, the great classical composer whose tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra was used as the theme for 2001: A Space Odyssey, even Richard Strauss wrote an Olympic Theme. It was composed for the infamous 1936 Olympics in Berlin where Jesse Owens’ record win shattered Hitler’s myth of the master race in front of the entire world.

Yet another classical composer, Leonard Bernstein, a multifaceted individual with several film scores to his credit, composed an Olympic Hymn as well.

But the greatest numbers of Olympic themes in recent times have come from John Williams. In addition to the theme for the Los Angeles Games, he wrote Olympic Spirit for the 1988 Games in Seoul, Summon the Heroes for the 1996 Games in Atlanta, and Call of the Champions for the 1992 Winter Games in Utah.

And, if you’ve been watching the 2004 Games in Athens on television, one of the evening’s presentations began with this theme.

Yes, it’s John Williams Theme from Jurassic Park. And why not? It’s always sounded as noble as Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March played at school graduations. If such a theme can convey the grandeur of a giant brontosaurus craning his neck toward the heavens, can it not also accompany striving athletes reaching toward the heights of Olympus? The trumpets and drums, the hymns and fanfares of Olympic music have drawn inspiration and majesty from both the symphony and the film score in highlighting the epic human struggles and triumphs in Olympic experience--and the excitement and drama of the Games themselves provide us mere mortals with a needed respite from the cares of our turbulent world and help reaffirm for us once again, the dignity and achievements of the human spirit.

2005 Dennis Kwiatkowski/ Celluloid Dreams


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