On Air Now
Classic FM Drive with John Brunning 4pm - 7pm
To celebrate London 2012, be inspired by Classic FM's Olympic playlist of stirring classical music.
Wenlock, the one-eyed Olympic mascot, takes his name from the Shropshire town of Much Wenlock where, in the mid-19th century, the Wenlock Games became one of the inspirations for the modern Olympic movement. Vaughan Williams’ nature-themed song cycle sets text by A. E. Housman, including Is My Team Ploughing, and Brendon Hill.
Lively and pulsing, this is enough to inspire even the most sport-phobic to don their running shoes and take to the streets. It’s the third movement of John Adams’ hyperactive Chamber Symphony, written in 1992.
The fourth century BC temple to the goddess Rhea is the youngest of the three temples at Olympia (pictured). And it's also the title of Olympic composer Samaras’ tragic opera, premiered shortly before the 1908 London Olympics and performed once more in Athens at the 2004 Games.
The music might sound minimalist, but Philip Glass engages with all the cultures on earth in his piece, composed for the 2004 Olympics. He collaborated with seven different composers to create a picture of awe and appreciation for the starry skies across the continents.
We don’t want to pre-empt Team GB’s Olympic success, but after listening to this uplifting anthem you can’t help but feel patriotic. It was set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740, but it’s still just as exciting in 2012.
Specially commissioned for this year’s Olympic festivities, the glorious brassy splendor of MacMillan’s meaty fanfare is a fitting soundtrack to our nation’s sporting success. And a fine example of what our UK composers are made of.
Suspense, loud timpani crashes, organ chords and triumphant trumpets – the initial fanfare to this piece has all the makings of an Olympic anthem. The thrilling opening is now synonymous with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but there’s much more to this piece than that first minute; a typical performance of the whole work lasts around half an hour.
Montserrat Caballé's duet with Queen rock singer Freddie Mercury stormed the pop charts in 1992 after the duo performed it in the Spanish singer’s home city. It was previously released in 1988 but was chosen to become the anthem for the Games four years later.
It’s not often a singer will be asked to run 5,000 metres over the course of an opera performance but Emily Howard’s Zátopek! does just that. Composed as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the 12 minute work sets the story of Czech runner Emil Zátopek’s gold-medal winning race, in almost real time.
Suk’s stirring work earned him a silver medal at the Olympic art competitions in 1932. Medals used to be awarded in architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture as part of the Games, but this was replaced by the Olympic cultural programme in 1956.
Composed for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the military drums and lively brass capture the building excitement in the run up to the Games. It might sound familiar: the music uses Leo Arnaud's fanfare from the Bugler's Dream suite written in the 1950s, which was adopted by the US as the theme for their Olympic television broadcasts. Williams, known for his film music, has now composed theme tunes to four Olympic Games.
Rhythmic and brassy, this piece by Philip Glass gradually builds in intensity until it packs quite a punch for a minimalist work. The piece provided a fitting soundtrack to the lighting of the Olympic Torch in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Born to a Ukrainian and a Russian mother, who lived and composed in France and America, George Gershwin seems a perfect international representative. His fantastic Rhapsody in Blue was performed by a grand total of 84 pianos at the 1984 Opening Ceremony.
Bernstein’s song ‘Proud’ formed the foundations for this Olympic Hymn, written for the 1981 International Olympic Congress in Baden-Baden. The lyrics embody the values of the Olympic Games: “Give an example that applies to all: Fight as friends, not as foes.”
Bring me my chariots of fire! With its rousing lyrics and powerful organ chords, it’s no wonder David Cameron has said Jerusalem would be a fitting anthem for England.
We don’t want to spoil the surprise, but after Opening Ceremony director Danny Boyle’s Olympic playlist was leaked, we couldn’t help spying this British favourite. The poignant strings and Elgar’s delicate writing make us proud of the rich history of British classical music.
Vivaldi’s 1734 opera is jam-packed full of Olympic drama, and the characters aren’t just playing for gold and glory. The plot centres around Megacles, who arrives in Sicyon in Greece just in time to take part in the Games, where the prize is the hand of princess Aristaea.
It goes without saying that Handel’s blaze of glorious choral music is a perfect soundtrack to celebrate a medal win. But the piece was also performed en masse at the London Olympics in 1948 – Strauss’ German music wasn’t the favourite choice after the war.
“How all too high we hold / That noise which men call fame / That dross which men call gold.” Performed at the 1948 London Olympics, Quilter’s setting of Rudyard Kipling’s text takes a step back from the glitz and glamour of the games, adopting a slightly more prayerful response.
After Chinese pianist Lang Lang performed this patriotic piece with five-year-old Li Muzi at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, 40million Chinese children took up piano lessons. It’s known as the ‘Lang Lang’ effect.
This rousing choral cantata was written in 1896 for the Athens Olympics (pictured). The composer might not ring many bells, but you’ll recognise the tune as, since 1960, it’s been played at the Opening Ceremony of every Olympic Games.
The melody is one of the earliest surviving musical compositions, dating back to around 128BC and discovered engraved on stone tablets discovered in Delphi. The accompaniment? Harp, flute, and two clarinets, scored by Fauré in late 1893 or early 1894. It’s certainly an exciting musical mix, capturing a piece of history.
Commissioned by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympics to celebrate the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary Season, Javelin was performed at the opening ceremony in 1994. The music tells the story of a javelin flying through the air.
Richard Strauss agreed to compose the anthem for the controversial 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin on the condition that a suitable text was found. The one he chose certainly hammers the point home, with its cries of victory and multiple exclamation marks. Olympia! Olympia! Olympia! It was first performed at the Opening Ceremony on 1 August attended by Nazi leaders and foreign dignitaries.
When listening to this iconic piece, it’s hard not to break into a slow motion run. Now an iconic piece in its own right, it was originally part of the Academy Award-winning soundtrack to the film, Chariots of Fire, detailing the story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics.