This six-minute orchestral work is one of John Williams's best occasional pieces with a noble aspect that transcends the full measure of bombast the composer also included. It represents some of his most brilliant orchestral writing.
Adding the conductorship of the Boston Pops in 1980 to his immensely successful film music career gave John Williams (b. 1932) a new entrée to the concert hall. Already the composer of a symphony a several concertos, Williams now added the genre of the occasional piece to his output. He has written more than two dozen such pieces for celebrations as diverse as theater openings, Leonard Bernstein's birthday, the anniversaries of the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty and the half-millennial of Columbus's first encounter with the Americas.
Of all these works some of the best-known are the ones he wrote in connection with the Olympics. The others are:
1. Olympic Fanfare and Theme, written in 1984 for NBC's broadcasts of the Los Angeles Games.
2. We're Looking Good!, for the 1987 International Summer Games of the Special Olympics.
3. Olympic Spirit, which Williams composed in 1988 for ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea.
4. Call of the Champions, the Official Theme of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Williams wrote this work on commission from the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee for the games to be held in that city in 1996. That year marked the hundredth anniversary of the first modern Olympic Games, revived by Baron de Coubertin in Athens in 1896. Therefore, from the outset this was to be more than an average "Olympic theme."
Williams's work is in the form of a concert overture with a short slow introduction. This opening section is a brass and percussion fanfare in a slow tempo, with spirit and gestures reminiscent of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man.
The fast tempo of the main piece breaks out in a brass tattoo with bells. As of yet there is mostly rhythm and harmonic gestures; the thematic material in the trumpets has some importance, but the first minute of the overture can almost be called melody-less.
The music hushes down to a slow rhythmic pulse on low strings and in order to remedy the lack of melody, for a singing and noble solo trumpet theme soars above the orchestra. This extended them, which contains a bright scale-wise upward flourish and a questing, dedicated spirit, is one of Williams's best themes. After its statement a brass fanfare transition leads to a new theme on strings, with a driving horn rhythm.
Thereafter, the overture works both of these themes up into grand statements. Although these cross the line into grandiosity, the nobility of the themes themselves allow the music to keep a warm and uplifting spirit to go with its grandeur and fine coloration,l particularly when they re-emerge on full orchestra after another intriguingly non-melodic section with a dazzling succession of diverse orchestral colors.