February 21, 2014
Film Composers Achieve Olympic Victory
Tiomkin music to be featured in Sochi closing ceremony by Jon Burlingame
HOLLYWOOD—Ever wonder about the origins of that famous fanfare that has been used for so many years as the opening theme for television's Olympics coverage?
The solemn piece for brass and percussion is the work of a French-born composer-arranger named Leo Arnaud (1904-1991) and its selection as television's best-known "Olympic theme" was something of a fluke.
The work is entitled "Bugler's Dream" and was written for a 1958 Capitol album titled Charge! that featured martial music and airs that have historically been associated with wartime and military actions – fifes and drums, bagpipes, trumpet calls and drum rolls, everything from "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" to traditional calls to arms dating back centuries.
"Bugler's Dream" was conceived as one-third of a suite commissioned by veteran 20th Century-Fox concertmaster and sometime conductor Felix Slatkin (the LP cover credits "Felix Slatkin conducting the Light Brigade"). Side A was an original three-part suite that concluded with "Bugler's Dream," while side B consisted of arrangements of more classic material.
The full "Bugler's Dream" is actually a six-and-a-half-minute, classically styled piece for large brass ensemble and percussion; what was originally chosen, and what we still hear in Olympics coverage, is a 53-second excerpt from the middle of the piece, its most heroic and celebratory passage. (Arnaud drew inspiration from, and embellished upon, a 19th-century cavalry trumpet call by French composer Joseph-David Buhl, part of his "Salut aux etendards.")
Recalls Leonard Slatkin, Felix's son and today a leading conductor himself: "Arnaud and my father worked quite closely on this and all the other arrangements for the album. Most likely, Leo did the orchestrating and my dad worked out the content. For 'Bugler's Dream,' the two brass groups were put in separate rooms, with my father conducting one group live and the other watching him on a TV monitor. To this day, I still prefer the somewhat raw sound of this recording to the various remakes that have been done."
The choice of "Bugler's Dream" to herald Olympics coverage was made by Roone Arledge, then a producer at ABC Sports (and eventually its president) the day before he left New York for the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria (not the 1968 games as so often reported). According to ABC personnel present at the time, Arledge asked a member of the network's engineering department to search the music library for a suitable piece of music, something that "somehow would symbolize the grandeur of the Games."
He came back with six albums. Arledge listened to only one – Charge! – and was immediately sold on "Bugler's Dream." It opened ABC's Winter Olympics coverage in 1964 and 1968 and has been used off and on ever since.
Arnaud was born in Lyon, France, and studied with famed classical composer Maurice Ravel. A jazz trombonist in his native country, he became an arranger for English bandleader Jack Hylton in the late 1920s and American bandleader Fred Waring in the early 1930s. He joined M-G-M as an arranger-orchestrator in 1936 and worked on more than 100 films including such legendary musicals as The Wizard of Oz, Babes in Arms, For Me and My Gal, Easter Parade and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He received a 1964 Oscar nomination for his work on The Unsinkable Molly Brown and coached actor Sam Wanamaker on conducting techniques for The Competition.
Aside from his studio work, Arnaud conducted southern California's Burbank and Highland Park symphony orchestras during the 1960s. Bassoonist Ted Ancona recalled Arnaud as "rather profane, pretty irascible, had a quick temper, and once summarily fired our orchestra librarian in the middle of a rehearsal for talking back." On the other hand, cellist and conductor Masatoshi Mitsumoto, who worked closely with Arnaud in the 1970s and '80s, called him "a very generous person, so eager to help young people. He was also a wonderful cook!"
"Bugler's Dream" gained renewed attention in 1984, when it opened Columbia's best-selling album of The Official Music of the XXIIIrd Olympiad. It was overshadowed, however, by the newly commissioned "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" by Oscar-winning film composer John Williams. Williams knew Arnaud, who as a trombonist played with Williams' father, a well-known jazz drummer in the 1930s; and Arnaud was composing for TV when Williams was just getting started as a composer in the early 1960s.
Williams' 1984 fanfare is now equally famous. Composed for the Summer Games in Los Angeles, its thrilling debut – played by dozens of trumpeters at the opening ceremony July 28, 1984 – was witnessed by a huge worldwide TV audience. I talked to the composer about it during his 1992 re-recording of the music for NBC Sports; he explained that it was intended to represent, in musical terms, "the spirit of cooperation, of heroic achievement, all the striving and preparation that go before the events and the applause that comes after them."
If Williams' 1984 theme suggests the dignity and grandeur of the Games, then his "Olympic Spirit," written for NBC's coverage of the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, complements it beautifully with its propulsive rhythms and sense of sheer joy in competition. The longer and more complex "Summon the Heroes," composed for the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, features antiphonal brass choirs and is the only one of Williams' four Olympic fanfares to win an Emmy. "Call of the Champions," written for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, features voices – appropriately enough, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, singing "Citius, Altius, Fortius" (Latin for "faster, higher, stronger," the Olympic motto) – and in doing so adds a sense of nobility, wonder and a soaring feel that suggests that these athletes are somehow superhuman.
Film composers have often been called upon to compose music for the Olympics. French composer Francis Lai composed "Chant Olympique" for the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France. The 1984 games also featured music by Quincy Jones, Bill Conti, Giorgio Moroder and Philip Glass. David Foster's "Winter Games" theme, penned for the 1988 event in Calgary, Alberta, became a chart hit. Greek legend Mikis Theodorakis composed a huge, 50-minute work for orchestra and chorus, "Canto Olympico," for the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain. Americans Michael Kamen, Basil Poledouris and Mark Watters composed music for the 1996 Atlanta games.
The closing ceremonies for the 2014 games in Sochi will feature music by Russian-born composer Dimitri Tiomkin. Advance word is that about 12 minutes of Tiomkin will be played, including the overture to Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), the horse ballet from The Unforgiven (1960), the theme from It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and the main title from Giant (1956). The arrangements to be used are by Christopher Palmer and Patrick Russ from recent recordings of Tiomkin's classic scores.
Stage director Daniele Finzi Pasca wanted to add Tiomkin to the other Russian composers to be featured (Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich), and it's a great acknowledgment of a Russian-born composer who, despite leaving Russia in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, achieved great fame in the West as a composer for movies.
Said Tiomkin's widow, Olivia Tiomkin Douglas: "I am delighted that Dimitri's music will be featured in the Closing Ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. My husband was proud of his heritage, and would be greatly honored to be included with the many illustrious Russian composers heard at this event. I am thrilled and deeply grateful that the Olympic Committee has asked me to attend the Closing Ceremony and represent Dimitri."
©2014 Jon Burlingame