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Citius, Altius, Fortius!: The John Williams Olympic Music Thread


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I did a quick check and did not find the existence of a similar thread. If such a thread already exists then I can take up this conversation elsewhere.

 

Anyway, we are just a few days away from the start of the Rio Games. 

 

Williams's first Olympic piece, "Olympic Fanfare and Theme," holds a special place in my heart as it was the first Williams piece I ever heard (I may have heard some of his themes before at various times, but it never registered). This was in 2012. I was a huge sports fan at the time (Williams fandom has gradually replaced that) so of course I watched as much of the London Games on TV as possible. I became fascinated by the broadcast intro music and found it on YouTube, listening repeatedly. I learned that the piece was by someone named John Williams (it wasn't until a couple years later that I found out that particular version contained an opening fanfare not by him). 

 

Around this time and in the next couple years I was actually a fan of sports TV themes in general (yes, even the synthy ones). That gradually changed into an interest in orchestral film music at some point.

 

Williams of course wrote three other Olympic themes. Two (the fanfare and theme and "Summon the Heroes") of his Olympic pieces were still being used on the NBC broadcasts in 2014, and "Summon the Heroes" has been used more recently for the NBC Olympic trials broadcasts. 

 

Finally, when discussing Williams and the Olympics, special mention must go to Williams's wardrobe at the 2002 opening ceremony, which I was hoping to make my avatar. Alas, the only close-ups I could find were in a terrible quality video. 

 

By the way, does anyone here know when the various recording sessions for JW Olympic music took place (especially the most recent), and any more details about those sessions?

 

 

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I can totally see Steven being jealous of that glorious piece     Love this

I especially love the section here from 2:03 to 2:50.  I admit I like this more because it resembles his fantasy film scores than because it works as a piece for an athletic event:  

Summon the Heroes is my favorite piece out of his Olympic fanfares. Very Copland-esque, occasionally (cfr. the gran cassa/timpani booms in the introduction and the parallel fifths throughout), and rem

Ah yes, I imagine many of us (myself included) grew up thinking "Bugler's Dream" was written by Williams.

 

My first memory of watching the Olympics was in 1996 when they were in Atlanta, when "Summon the Heroes" debuted.  But it was with the '02 Olympics that I was already a firm Williams fan so I of course bought American Journey at some ridiculous price at a mall CD store.  "Call of the Champions" is my favorite Olympic music to this day!

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My personal ranking of his four Olympic Pieces from best to least best

 

1 Olympic Fanfare and Theme (1984)

2 Olympic Spirit (1988)

3 Summon The Heroes (1996)

4 Call of the Champions (2002)

 

Just could never really get into COTC for whatever reason...

 

 

Oh, and the definitive version of Olympic Fanfare is certainly Eric Kunzel's

 

 

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I kinda feel like he had already said everything he had to say about athleticism and striving to be your best in his first three pieces and just kinda put some different ideas together for the fourth.

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Summon the Heroes is my favorite piece out of his Olympic fanfares. Very Copland-esque, occasionally (cfr. the gran cassa/timpani booms in the introduction and the parallel fifths throughout), and reminiscent of some of his concert works (3:48-4:34).

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Although it is definitely very Copland-esque Summon the Heroes is my favourite of the four fanfares not only because of the superlative trumpet solo part but because there is a great little narrative running through the piece which has all these twists and turns that I find most engaging of the four.

 

The order for me would be

1. Summon the Heroes

2. Olympic Fanfare and Theme

3. Call of the Champions

4. Olympic Spirit

 

I still remember listening to the Summon the Heroes album when I was 14 or 15 and thinking it was miraculous that this composer who was slowly becoming my favourite had done just about everything under the sky, composing olympic fanfares included. This was long before I knew Williams was America's composer laureate who has graced many of the major public events with his compositions.

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39 minutes ago, Jilal said:

Summon the Heroes is my favorite piece out of his Olympic fanfares. Very Copland-esque, occasionally (cfr. the gran cassa/timpani booms in the introduction and the parallel fifths throughout), and reminiscent of some of his concert works (3:48-4:34).

the whole piece is a sort of variation on Copland's Fanfare for a Common Man.  Notice the first twenty seconds is a revved -up quote of its main theme.

 

As for COTC, the piece works so much better live than on the album.  There is a raw power to it absent from the other three. 

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Surprised to see "The Olympic Spirit" get so little love. True, it's the only one of the four themes that was not written specifically for the event, but rather for NBC's coverage of it (why would Williams be commisioned to write for Seoul, anyway?), but it's not only my favourite Olympic theme, but one of my top 3 favourite Williams fanfares/short pieces EVER!

 

I'd rank them thusly:

 

1. The Olympic Spirit

2. Summon the Heroes (especially when the percussion gets going midway through the piece)

3. Call of the Champions

4. Olympic Fanfare & Theme

 

It should also be pointed out that there are many versions of these themes that also encompass bumpers, intros, outros and such. For the specially interested, but I find them interesting too.

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1 hour ago, Jay said:

I kinda feel like he had already said everything he had to say about athleticism and striving to be your best in his first three pieces and just kinda put some different ideas together for the fourth.

 

Call of the Champions seems written specifically for the opening ceremony, unlike the other three which seem to represent the actual athletic events, if that makes any sense. It's more beautiful than exciting. Really a symbol of hope and unity for humanity. I have no idea whether JW had 9/11 on his mind when composing this but it would make sense if he did and wanted something comforting and hopeful.

25 minutes ago, Tom said:

 

As for COTC, the piece works so much better live than on the album.  There is a raw power to it absent from the other three. 

 

I've never actually been to a live performance, but I can say that while the quality is terrible compared to the album I much prefer watching the video on YouTube of the opening ceremony performance in Salt Lake City.

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2 minutes ago, Stefancos said:

Actually the performance is the same. They lip synced!

 

Oh. Right. Of course if it's so cold that everyone is in thick coats they can't "actually" perform it.

 

Well, the visuals still add a lot. 

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In case anyone missed my earlier question:

 

Quote

By the way, does anyone here know when the various recording sessions for JW Olympic music took place (especially the most recent), and any more details about those sessions?

 

I am NOT asking for anyone to send me any music.

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2 hours ago, Will said:

By the way, does anyone here know when the various recording sessions for JW Olympic music took place (especially the most recent), and any more details about those sessions?

 

 

As I have the Summon the Heroes and Call of the Champions CDs to hand (as every self-respecting John Williams fan should), I can see that Williams recorded the former on 6th, 10th or 13th January 1996 at Symphony Hall in Boston with the Boston Pops Orchestra and the latter on 27th November 2001 with the Utah Symphony and Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Maurice Abravanel Hall, Salt Lake City.  I cannot help you with the others, I'm afraid.

 

I have been fortunate enough to have seen every one of Williams's four main Olympic pieces played live and I can honestly say that hearing each one live has added immeasurably to my appreciation of the pieces.  Indeed, Summon the Heroes was the first piece I ever saw Williams himself conduct, with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in June 1996.  I remember how exciting it was to see my favourite composer in the flesh for the first time, even though I swear that Maurice Murphy (RIP) split one of the notes in the opening trumpet solo quite badly!  I liked it so much that I bought the CD in the foyer after the concert.

 

That was the only time I think that I have seen Williams himself conduct one of his Olympic pieces, but in more recent years I have seen the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra play Olympic Fanfare and Theme in - you guessed it - Birmingham, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra play the Olympic Spirit in - you never guessed it - Basingstoke and the BBC Concert Orchestra play Call of the Champions in that well known bastion of the Winter Olympics, Watford.  Do I win a prize (a gold medal, perhaps) for completing the set?

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3 minutes ago, Omen II said:

 

As I have the Summon the Heroes and Call of the Champions CDs to hand (as every self-respecting John Williams fan should), I can see that Williams recorded the former on 6th, 10th or 13th January 1996 at Symphony Hall in Boston with the Boston Pops Orchestra and the latter on 27th November 2001 with the Utah Symphony and Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Maurice Abravanel Hall, Salt Lake City.  I cannot help you with the others, I'm afraid.

 

Thanks. I should have been more clear, however; the info I'm actually looking for is on the NBC TV sessions. I remember reading that Williams conducted some cues before the Beijing Games...

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9 minutes ago, Hawmy said:

 

I'd be really surprised if motab lip synced. 

 

It's very common for these sort of ceremonial outdoor performances, even for classical players.  The quartet that played "Air and Simple Gifts" at Obama's inauguration (including Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman) mimed playing their instruments to a recording.

 

The larger ceremony is too elaborate and well-planned/timed for the risk of anything going wrong with a performance or sound equipment.

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2 hours ago, Will said:

Call of the Champions seems written specifically for the opening ceremony, unlike the other three which seem to represent the actual athletic events, if that makes any sense.

 

 

I don't know the exact genesis of any of the fanfares, but Olympic Spirit was specifically written for NBC's coverage of the games, while Summon the Heroes I believe was written both as a fanfare for the ceremony and as TV music (there's a shitload of unreleased bumpers and variations that were used for the TV coverage).

 

Summon the Heroes is one of my favourite Williams pieces. It certainly has the greatest arc of any of these, and I love the dramatic narrative (even though Williams' cue titles are quite different from what I imagined when listening to it) and particularly the brass counterpoint in the final reprise. Olympic Spirit is more straightforward (basically just the theme on loop with more and more counterpoint), but awfully underrated. Olympic Fanfare is great of course, and only slightly overrated (compared to StH), and I look forward to hearing it performed by the LSO later this year. Call of the Champions.... I love the "Citius! Altius! Fortius!" bit, but the rest seems so mundane - and the horrid recording (Murphy's last bad recording, if memory serves) doesn't help.

 

Trivia side note: The first version of Bugler's Dream I was familiar with was this:

 

 

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I'm 99% certain it's him. That is an absolutely terrific cue -- just one in the goldmine that is unreleased Olympic music. I mean, "Contemporary Tease" from 1992 is JW's action writing at its best. :wub: I'm going to listen to it again right now!

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This is not by Williams but it deserves an honorable mention here (Bespin actually included it in his playlist): Javelin by Michael Torke. Great stuff.

 

-------

 

By the way during the Sochi Games the Arnaud fanfare was barely used on NBC, if at all -- even the prime time intro usually (always?) stuck with Williams entirely, IIRC. I wonder how much use it will get this time.

 

Also, I dearly wish NBC would have had Williams update his themes with a Brazilian feel, as there's a distinct and widely recognized musical style there which is something we don't get often, but I'd think we would have heard about that by now if it were happening. I actually kind of fear that NBC went ahead and had someone else do new arrangements. I guess we'll see...

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7 hours ago, Will said:

This is not by Williams but it deserves an honorable mention here (Bespin actually included it in his playlist): Javelin by Michael Torke. Great stuff.

 

In the paylist, I've included "We're looking Good" (composed by Williams for the Special Olympics).

 

Rare stuff, unfortunately the only other recording sounds like it was made for a Nintendo game.

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1 hour ago, Bespin said:

 

In the paylist, I've included "We're looking Good" (composed by Williams for the Special Olympics).

 

Rare stuff, unfortunately the only other recording sounds like it was made for a Nintendo game.

 

True, let's not forget the 'Special Olympics' (or 'Paralympics', which is the more politically correct term these days). It premiered in May-1987 in Boston in a purely instrumental version, but when it was performed at the actual games in South Bend, Indiana in August that same year, the lyrics by the Bergmans had been added.

 

The version with the lyrics (either choral or solo, I don't know) has never been available in any format, not even bootleg. But the instrumental version has been available in bootleg land for decades. I'm not sure about the source of this recording (Miguel?). I just googled around and stumbled upon this band version/album from 1992:

 

https://www.amazon.com/John-Williams-Evening-Pops-Looking/dp/B0030V2RQ6

 

Intriguing....

 

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For the August performance the lyrics were sung by the athletes if memory serves. So I'm assuming it was a chorus. Never found the actual lyrics, though I would be curious to see how they are...

The existing recording comes from the July 4th concert of that same year at the Hatch Shell in Boston. The concert was televised and I was lucky enough to get a hold of the video of the transmition :)

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1 hour ago, Thor said:

 

True, let's not forget the 'Special Olympics' (or 'Paralympics', which is the more politically correct term these days).

 

Actually they are two completely different events.  The Special Olympics are for athletes with intellectual/developmental disabilities.  The Paralympic Games are for athletes with physical disabilities.

 

9 hours ago, Jay said:

Contemporary Tease is cool but I like Dramatic Tease the best

 

For anyone who doesn't know what we're talking about:

 

http://www.jwfan.com/forums/index.php?/topic/23257-

 

 

 

That's a bad link. Doesn't go anywhere for me.

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38 minutes ago, Disco Stu said:

 

Actually they are two completely different events.  The Special Olympics are for athletes with intellectual/developmental disabilities.  The Paralympic Games are for athletes with physical disabilities.

 

Really? I had no idea. I thought 'Special Olympics' was the 80s name for what we now call 'Paralympics'! Another thing learned today. :)

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Summon the Heroes is an overblown piece but also something an average person might recognise. I remember playing it some years ago and one of my mates said that this is Atlanta 1996 music. It must have been at least a decade after the fact so it counts as a win. It's a great memorable theme.

 

Call of the Champions would come second because it is so different to all the others.

 

Olympic Fanfare and Theme would be the third one, followed by the Olympic Spirit (which I never listen to).

 

Karol

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I've seen a bit of today's Olympics stuff as well as the trials and haven't noticed any new Williams music yet. But NBC still seems to love Williams. :)

On 8/2/2016 at 11:53 AM, ymenard said:

This is a somehow interesting variation, was it orchestrated by John? 

 

 

 

This was used this afternoon on NBC's Olympic coverage as an intro. It was also used at least once during the trials.

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32 minutes ago, Thor said:

What do you mean, today's Olympics stuff? The games haven't even started yet...

 

It's a common misconception, that competition doesn't begin until the OC. While officially the Games don't start until Friday's ceremony, some sports begin before then. Today was the first day of competition. :)

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Just saw this ad on an NBC broadcast:

 

 

Anyone know what the music is? It certainly sounds Williams-esque. @king mark?

 

EDIT:

Another version of the commercial, with sightly different music:

 

 

Some of the orchestrational details here are so "Williams." 

 

I'm bracing for the embarrassment in case someone says it's an old Williams piece. :lol:

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It's no Williams I'm aware of (and I'm aware of most). Sounds more like music that is written specifically for this commercal, or perhaps library music. But yeah -- sounds like a cross between Kamen and Williams.

 

And yes, you're right that some events have already started (the football tournament, for example). But TV coverage-wise, at least here in Norway, it's pretty meager before the actual opening ceremony.

 

Btw, it sucks that everything happens at night time (over here) this year. Makes it hard to follow the events live.

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Tangentially related to this topic, does anyone know if Williams ever did an arrangement of the theme from Chariots of Fire?  This one from the Summon the Heroes album is credited to Thomas Pasatieri in the YouTube credits:

 

But here's another Boston Pops version from I-don't-know-when that I found on one of the more recent compilation discs.  I like this arrangement better (except for the fade-out ending), and it seems more Williams-esque in the percussion and little wind accents and whatnot.  Do we know if this is the Maestro's work?  (I couldn't find a YouTube link for this one.)

 

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The Boston Pops first recorded "Chariots of Fire" for the Aisle Seat album I believe.  I own the CD but it's at home (and I'm not), so I can't check the liner notes for the arranger right now.

 

MI0000052691.jpg?partner=allrovi.com

 

EDIT:

 

I found an image of the liner notes online.  The arranger was Joseph Reisman, not Williams:

 

116319118-2.jpg

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