Music of the Olympics: Instrumental

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


The Olympics are a time for the world to come together and celebrate our common humanity. And what better way to do that than through the power of music?

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the best Olympic instrumental pieces that have been composed over the years. From stirring anthems to heart-pounding adrenaline-fueled tracks, these pieces of music perfectly capture the spirit of the Olympics.


The Olympics have been steeped in tradition since their inception in Ancient Greece. One of the most iconic aspects of the modern games is their opening and closing ceremonies, which feature a dazzling array of performers from around the world. Among these are some of the world’s most celebrated instrumentalists, who add an extra layer of excitement and pageantry to the proceedings.

Instrumentalists have been performing at the Olympics for almost as long as the games have been taking place. The first recorded instance was at the Opening Ceremony of the 1900 Paris Games, where an orchestra performed Claude Debussy’s “Fanfare pour la paix perp├ętuelle.” Since then, instrumentalists have played a vital role in setting the tone and atmosphere of both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Some of the most memorable performances in Olympic history have been given by instrumentalists. These include Yo-Yo Ma’s emotional performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, He Zhenying’s spirited rendition of “Ode to Joy” on traditional Chinese instruments at the 2008 Beijing Games, and Vanessa-Mae’s exhilarating violin performance at the 2014 Sochi Games.

As we look forward to this year’s Olympics in Tokyo, let us take a moment to reflect on some of the greatest Olympic performances by instrumentalists from years past.

A Brief History of the Olympics

The ancient Olympic Games were primarily a part of a religious festival in honor of Zeus, the father of the Greek gods and goddesses. The first games were played in 776 BC in Olympia, Greece, and featured only one event, a 192-meter (630-foot) footrace called the stade.

Over the next few centuries, the Olympics evolved into a major sporting event featuring games such as boxing, wrestling, pankration (a free-for-all fighting event), chariot racing, and pentathlon (a five-event competition that included javelin throwing, discus throwing, long jumping, stadion running, and wrestling).

The original Olympics were discontinued in 393 AD when Roman emperor Theodosius I issued an edict banning all pagan festivals. It is believed that the ancient games continued to be celebrated secretly until at least the 11th or 12th century. In 1894 French educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee and revived interest in the ancient concept of the Olympics. The first modern Olympics took place in Athens in 1896.

The Music of the Ancient Olympics

Although the ancient Olympic Games were primarily a competition of physical prowess, music played an important role in both the games themselves and the surrounding festivities. Various musical genres were performed, including hymns, processional songs, dance music, and even poetry.

The primary purpose of music at the Olympics was to honor the gods, particularly Zeus, the patron deity of the games. Hymns were sung to Zeus at both the opening and closing ceremonies, and processional songs called paeans were also sung in his honor. These Songs of Triumph celebrated victory in battle or competition and were often accompanied by brass instruments and drums.

Dance music was another popular genre during the Olympics. In addition to being entertaining, dance had a practical purpose as well: it was used to keep athletes warm during their competition.Fast-paced dances were especially popular, as they helped to build up stamina and strength.

Although less common than other genres, poetry was also occasionally performed at the Olympics. Poems would typically be recited by either a solo poet or a group of poets, and they would often tell stories about famous athletes or Olympian gods.

The Music of the Ancient Olympics provides us with a snapshot of the culture and society of one of the most famous sporting events in history. From hymns honoring Zeus to fast-paced dances designed to keep athletes warm, this music helps us to understand more about what life was like during this fascinating period of time.

The Music of the Modern Olympics

Since the modern Olympics began in 1896, music has played an important role in both theOpening and Closing Ceremonies. While the style of music has changed over the years to reflect the eras, there are always instrumental pieces included to invoke patriotism and emphasize the magnitude of the event. Here are some of the most iconic Olympic theme songs and anthems dating back to the early days of the games.


The Olympics are a time when the world comes together to celebrate human achievement. The music of the Olympics is an important part of that celebration. It brings people of all cultures and backgrounds together in a spirit of unity and peace.

The instrumental music of the Olympics has been composed by some of the most talented musicians in the world. It has been performed by some of the greatest orchestras and ensembles. And it has been enjoyed by billions of people around the globe.

The music of the Olympics is a proud part of our heritage and it will continue to inspire generations to come.

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