A Saucerful of Music & Olympics

Posted on Thursday, July 26, 2012 by LoraLibrarian

On Friday NBC will be airing the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London. One big theme that adds to the excitement and fanfare of the games is the music. I was listening to NPR Music and there was a great segment about the music of past Olympics. So naturally I was curious to see if the library carried any of the famous tunes.

Summon the heroes Summon the heroes

Perhaps the most well known music that we associate with the Olympics is “Buglar’s Dream”. It was composed by Leo Arnaud. According to NPR Arnaud studied with Maurice Ravel.

Greatest Hits, 1969-1999 Greatest Hits, 1969-1999 The famous movie score writer John Williams expanded on the original theme and created his own rendition called “Olympic Fanfare and Theme.” Williams’ version debuted during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Going further back in Olympic history the “Olympic Hymn” also known informally as the Olympic Anthem was written by Spyridon Samaras to lyrics by Greek poet Kostis Palamas. It was first performed at the 1896 Athens Olympics. It is usually performed immediately following the raising of the Olympic flag. The English translation is as follows:

O Ancient immortal Spirit, pure father

Of beauty, of greatness and of truth,

Descend, reveal yourself and flash like lightning here,

within the glory of your own earth and sky.


At running and at wrestling and at throwing,

Shine in the momentum of noble contests,

And crown with the unfading branch

And make the body worthy and ironlike. (twice)


Plains, mountains and seas glow with you

Like a white-and-purple great temple,

And hurries at the temple here, your pilgrim, (twice)

O Ancient immortal Spirit, every nation. (twice)

Staying with the Greek theme, another Greek songwriter and composer, Mikis Theodorakis, was summoned to write the music for the 1992 Barcelona games. “Ode to Zeus” became part of the symphonic music and cantatas “Canto Olympico.” Theodorakis is well known for writing the scores of Zorba the Greek and Serpico.

In more recent times there’s the Czech composer and violinist Josef Suk, who wrote “Toward a New Life” for the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. This also won him a silver medal for the Art Competition, which was an early part of the Olympics. Suk studied under Antonín Dvořák and later married his daughter Otilie Dvořáková.

For the 1996 Atlanta Games Michael Torke composed the appropriately titled “Javelin.” A javelin is a spear that is thrown by hand at a great distance. According to Wikipedia, “Javelins were also used in the Olympics, then [sic] known as The Crown Games. They were hurled in a certain direction and whoever hurled it the farthest, as long as it hit tip-first, won that game”. See this link for more information about the Javelin throw.

For the torch lighting ceremony during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Philip Glass was asked to compose the prestigious orchestra and chorus work called “The Olympian: Lighting of the Torch and Closing.” Glass was also tapped for the 2004 Athens Games where he composed “Orion” in collaboration with seven other composers from different countries.

For the 1992 Barcelona Games Queen singer/composer Freddie Mercury was slated to perform the song “Barcelona” along with the famous opera singer Montserrat Caballé. Unfortunately Mercury passed away in 1991 and therefore a taped video version was streamed live during the opening ceremony. The song reflects Mercury's love of opera with his high notes and Caballé's operatic vocals, backed by a full orchestra.

For Friday’s 2012 London Games it is anyone’s guess what will be on the playlist. The Telegraph leaked that the following songs may be among the mix: