The most memorable times classical music was used in sport

7 August 2019, 07:28 | Updated: 26 July 2022, 12:12

Maestro Nadal
Maestro Nadal. Picture: Getty / Classic FM

Classical music in sport? Yep, really. From 'Nessun Dorma' at the 1994 World Cup to Ravel's Boléro at the most memorable ice dancing final in history, here are the best examples of classical music used in sport.

Classical music and sport have enjoyed a long and happy marriage since FA Cup Final audiences and players began singing ‘Abide With Me’ in 1927. Since then, classical music has played a key part in some of the most memorable sporting moments. Here are some of our favourites.

  1. Handel – Zadok the Priest

    Handel’s coronation anthem, adapted by English composer Tony Britten, has become one of the most recognisable pieces of classical music in football – thanks to the Champions League. It became the theme tune to the league’s TV coverage in 1992, and its thrilling opening has made sure it’s remained there ever since.

  2. Prokofiev – The Montagues and Capulets

    For over 15 years, Sunderland A.F.C. have come onto the pitch at home games to Prokofiev’s dark, vibey theme from Romeo and Juliet – also known as Alan Sugar’s entrance music in The Apprentice.

    Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet, No 13 Dance of the Knights (Valery Gergiev, LSO)

  3. Puccini – Nessun Dorma

    An aria forever tied to the genius of Pavarotti, ‘Nessun Dorma’ was first sung by The Three Tenors – made up of Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras – on the eve of the World Cup in 1990. Their performance was so momentous that they were asked to do it at the official FIFA World Cup ceremony in 1994.

    The Three Tenors - Nessun Dorma

  4. Mozart – A Musical Joke

    Mozart had a sense of humour too, as proven by A Musical Joke, which gently pokes fun at bad performers. Why it came to be chosen as the theme music for TV coverage of the Horse of the Year show is a bit of a mystery, but it worked remarkably well as the overture to some magnificent show jumping.

    Mozart, A Musical Joke - Presto. 4/4

  5. Ravel – Boléro

    In a perfect marriage of sport and music, Boléro accompanied the most memorable ice dancing final in Olympic history, in which Torvill and Dean became the highest scoring figure skaters of all time at the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics.

    Maurice Ravel Bolero London Symphony Orchestra Valery Gergiev

  6. Bizet – Carmen Prelude

    Bizet’s barnstorming orchestral prelude is heard after Formula 1 races, during the champagne-spraying podium celebration. It’s an old ritual, accompanied by a cracker of a piece.

    CARMEN Prelude Bizet

  7. Rodgers and Hammerstein – You'll Never Walk Alone

    Football’s most famous anthem was originally a Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune, sung by Nettie Fowler in Carousel. But to Liverpool F.C., it’s an immovable part of the club’s identity, which developed an even deeper meaning after the Hillsborough disaster of 1989.

    You'll Never Walk Alone (Liverpool vs Dortmund 14th April 2016)

  8. John Williams – Summon The Heroes

    One of very few pieces of music written specifically for a sporting event, WilliamsSummon the Heroes premiered at the 1996 Summer Olympics. The brassy, victorious tune was heard at the opening ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia.

    Summon The heroes conducted by John Williams

  9. Monk and Lyte – Abide With Me

    Since 1927, the first and last verses of ‘Abide With Me’ are traditionally sung at the FA Cup Final, about 15 minutes before kick-off. Composed in 1861 by Henry Monk, the popular hymn ends ‘in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me’, confirming that football is – in case you ever doubted it – a matter of life and death.

    Abide With Me, Hayley Westenra, Rugby