There's More to Olympics Music Than John Williams Compositions


The 2002 Olympic Spirit Band Perscussion ensemble warms up in  Salt Lake City.
The 2002 Olympic Spirit Band Perscussion Ensemble warms up in
Salt Lake City.


As the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games unfold in Russia February 7–23, attention will focus on speed skating, ski jumping and ice dancing, among other sports. But during the cold weather sports smorgasbord, another key element of the 22nd Winter Olympic Games will be events that celebrate the arts.

 2012 was the Year of Music in Russia, and the Sochi 2014 Cultural Olympiad will continue to explore music as well as cinema, visual arts and museums.

William Guegold, the North Central President of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), knows well how music and Olympic sport have intertwined since the latter’s beginnings.

 He is the author of the book 100 Years of Olympic Music and was awarded the “Olympic Order” by the International Olympic Committee in 2000 for his research on Olympic Music.  He is Professor Emeritus at The University of Akron in Ohio.

  Guegold shares some historical nuggets:


Olympic Hymns

  •  The current Olympic Hymn was written by Spiros Samaras in 1896.  However, for the 1936 Games in Berlin, Richard Strauss wrote an Olympic Hymn.  It was only used once.
  •  Leonard Bernstein wrote an Olympic Hymn commissioned by the German Olympic Committee.  But it has never been performed at an Olympic Games.


Street musicians play during the 2006 Olympics in Turnin, Italy.
Street musicians play during the 2006 Olympics in Turnin, Italy.


Olympic Arts Competitions

  •  From 1912 until 1948, participants could enter the Olympic Games as an artist.  From the beginning of the modern Games in 1896, it was the intention of founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin that the arts were to play an integral part in the Olympic competitions.  Participants could receive medals in painting, drama, sculpture, literature, architecture, and music!
  • Stravinsky, Bartok, de Falla, Honegger, Dukas, Enseco and Ravel were among the members of the music judging committee at the Paris Games in 1924 .  No medals were given that year.  Tough panel, Guegold wonders?

  •  Czechoslovakian composer Josef Suk’s piece Toward a New Life won the Silver Medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.  That was the only music medal given that year.
  •  The first Olympic Gold Medal in Music was awarded to Ricardo Barthelemy from Italy for his Triumphal Olympic March (1912).



  • The US Marine Band, “The President’s Own,” was the official band at the Squaw Valley Olympics in 1960.
  • The US Army Herald Trumpets have performed at numerous US Olympic Games, including Salt Lake City in 2002.
  • Beethoven’s 9th Symphony theme “Ode to Joy” is performed at many Olympic opening ceremonies.
  • “Chariots of Fire” was written for the movie, and then used at the Olympics.
  • Shostakovich’s Festive Overture was the theme song for the Moscow Games in 1980 (listen for it in Sochi in February).


 Photos by William Guegold

 Roz Fehr, NAfME managing editor for news, February 4,. 2014. © National Association for Music Education (