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The Fascinating Origin of the Olympic Anthem

Few pieces of music are more recognizable — or inspiring — than the Olympic anthem.

The piece, with its famous drum opening and rousing trumpets, will be played during NBC’s coverage of the Opening Ceremony and throughout the network’s coverage of the 2016 Rio Games.

Many attribute the music to composer extraordinaire John Williams, but it is actually two separate works.

The first 45 seconds of the anthem were composed back in 1958 by Leo Arnaud for his “Bugler’s March.” After the march comes Williams’ faster-paced “Olympic Fanfare and Theme,” which was composed in 1984 for the Los Angeles Summer Games.

ABC used Arnaud’s “Bugler’s March” for its Olympic telecasts beginning in 1968. For the 1996 Atlanta Games, the first Olympics held in the U.S. since 1984, NBC (which has the broadcast rights through 2032) decided to fuse the Arnaud and Williams pieces together into this well-known amalgamation:

According to USC music professor and Variety contributor Jon Burlingame, Williams had no input in the merging. Some have accused the composer of co-opting Arnaud’s work, but Burlingame stresses “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” was written as a separate piece of work.

Of course, Williams would go onto write themes for three other Games: “Olympic Spirit” in 1988, “Summon the Heroes” in 1996 and “Call of the Champions” in 2002.

“Summon” is probably the most recognized of these pieces; anyone who watches NBC Olympics coverage knows this familiar melody.

So let’s give Arnaud credit where credit is due. And Williams, too. (They were reportedly friends.)

Arnaud died in 1991, but Williams is still composing at age 84. And you might know the five-time Oscar and 22-time Grammy winner’s other famous works, including the themes to “Star Wars,” “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List,” and “Harry Potter.”

Coverage of the 2016 Olympics kicks off Friday evening.

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