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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 18:09 GMT
Screen composer records Olympic theme
John Williams in Studio One at Abbey Road
Call of the Champions mixes choir and orchestra
Legendary film composer John Williams has recorded the official theme to for 2002 Winter Olympics. BBC News Online's Robert White was at the session.

"Citius! Altius! Fortius!"

The London Voices Choir are at London's Abbey Road Studios, belting out the motto of the Olympics - "swifter, higher, stronger".

They are here with five-times-Oscar-winning composer John Williams to record Call of the Champions, the official theme for the 2002 Winter Olympics, which opens on 8 February in Salt Lake City.

Williams take up his baton and prompts the choir once again - "Cittius! Altius! Fortius!"

John Williams
Williams is an old friend of Abbey Road

Abbey Road's Studio One reverberates for a long instant with the clean sound of the 40 or so massed voices.

As a listener, the effect is a bit like being splashed in the face with cold water - appropriately enough, given the piece's wintry theme.

Williams says he was drawn to the three words, as the foundation of Call of the Champions because of their "declamatory, fanfaric" quality.


"I thought it was a triad of words that had a wonderful sound to it," he says.

"It's great in English - it's even more fabulous in Latin, so the piece begins with the chorus singing alone. 'Cittius! Altius! Fortius!' It's kind of arresting."

Williams recalls that he first heard the theme sung by the 350-strong Mormon Tabernacle Choir - which must have been much more than "kind of arresting", if the London Voices Choir's efforts are anything to go by.

Williams says the feeling of being surrounded by the Mormon choir was like being in the middle of a "sonic womb-pool".

"You think of these openings as being something that's done with great pageant. It's flags and colour and lights and great crowds," he says.

Director Steven Spielberg
Williams has scored all but one of director Steven Spielberg's films

"In my mind, there's nothing more exhilarating than an orchestra and a chorus together. It's a thrilling combination."

If anyone knows about pageantry, it's Williams, whose has provided the soundtrack for most of the biggest Hollywood films of the last three decades.

Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saving Private Ryan, Close Encounters, Harry Potter - you hum it, Williams has scored it.

He has composed for all but one of Steven Spielberg's feature films, and is the conductor laureate of the Boston Pops Orchestra, which he led from 1980 to 1993.

The soundtracks to many of America's favourite TV shows, including Gilligan's Island, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space are also Williams's work.

However, he confesses to being particularly fond of writing for big sporting events, having written for several Olympics, starting with the Los Angeles games in 1984.

'Music first'

He clearly values the freedom of not having to scrupulously follow visual sequences or the twists and turns of a narrative.

"It's music first, visuals second," Williams says.

"In Hollywood, it's very much the other way around - visuals first, music second, maybe even third after sound effects."

He also detects parallels between music and sport - not least in the relentless practice and dedication required of those who would excel in either field.

In my mind, there's nothing more exhilarating than an orchestra and a chorus together - it's a thrilling combination

John Williams
He quotes fellow composer Rachmaninov as saying: "If I don't practise for one day, I know; if I don't practise for two days, the audience knows; if I don't practise for three days - the critics know."

The trumpet section of the Utah Symphony Orchestra - which will be performing the theme live at the opening ceremony with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, are "truly Olympians", Williams says.

The comparison is telling: like music, sport is capable of producing transcendent moments that resist verbal description.

Williams - like so many really talented musicians - is inclined to take a spiritual view, and believes tragic events throw into relief music's nurturing qualities.

After the events of 11 September, he says: "We want to listen to Beethoven's ninth in the quietude of a concert hall and ruminate about whatever it may mean to us, verbally or not, intellectually or not.


The more we learn listen to music and the more we play it, he says, "the richer it seems and the more fulfilling it is to the people who do it".

"We pop out and come into the world and music is there.

"We didn't invent it - it's all organised in the atmosphere by divinity or whatever. It's a miracle."

Outside the studio, the street signs and walls are scrawled with fans' tributes to George Harrison, musician and mystic.

It's impossible not to feel that Abbey Road itself is echoing Williams's sentiment.

See also:

28 Nov 01 | New Media
Abbey Road goes interactive
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