Six works for the Winter Olympics
Over the next two weeks, the Winter Olympics will be held in and around Beijing. To celebrate this fortnight of skiing, skating, curling and all, we recommend six pieces that, in one way or another, have a connection with the Winter Olympics.
by Ravel Bolero
Although Britain had since tasted Winter Olympic gold medals in curling and skeleton, in the 1970s and 1980s hopes rested entirely on figure skating: John Curry in 1976; Robin Cousins in 1980; and, most famously, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean in 1984. The music that accompanied them as they gracefully glided to gold in Sarajevo was a shortened version of Fraying’s Bolero, the climax of which saw the pair spectacularly fall apart on the ice. An unprecedented six of the judges followed.
by Rimsky-Korsakov Caprice Spanish
Although everyone remembers Bolero, no one wins an Olympic gold medal in figure skating with just routine. In 1984, Torvill and Dean prefaced their Ravel with a double pass danced to the sound of Rimsky-Korsakovit is Caprice Spanish – a synthesized version, however, without a violin solo. In this case, Dean played the part of a bullfighter with Torvill as cap. The judges loved this one too.
Fonteyn’s Pop Bach Looks
Ask people who Sam Fonteyn is or make them whistle Pop Bach Looks and you’ll likely get blank stares and shrugged shoulders. Have them sing the BBC ski sunday theme, however, and you’re in business. Fonteyn wrote his catchy piece for lively strings and triumphant timps for Boosey and Hawkes in 1970, eight years before ski sunday brought downhill and slalom to our television screens. As a choice for a theme, it was inspired, instantly evoking images of snow-capped alpine slopes.
by Richard Strauss An Alpine Symphony
And speaking of alpine slopes… Although he hated the sport himself, Richard Strauss has boasted of Winter Olympics credentials in various ways. His home, for example, was in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, host of the games in 1936. And then there’s the fact that he both wrote and composed the Olympic anthem for that year’s Summer Olympics in Berlin. As there has been a finer musical representation of all things mountainous than its dramatic and atmospheric Alpine Symphony, composed in 1915? We think not.
from Waldteufel The waltz of the skaters
Perhaps the most famous work to describe a winter sport is this charming short waltz written in 1882 by the French composer Emile Waldteufel. Granted, it sounds more like a family enjoying a jolly afternoon on a frozen lake than it does short-track speed skaters shoving and crashing into each other at high speed on an Olympic rink, but the “pee bonk” motif heard regularly in the ropes, when skaters fall on their backs, could apply equally to both.
by Sibelius Lonely ski trail
For skiers, meanwhile, there is Sibeliusit is Lonely ski trail for strings, harp and narrator, composed in 1925. Cross-country skiing rather than downhill skiing is what the Finnish composer had in mind, because his softly mournful music accompanies lyrics that tell us of a path that leads ‘far in the depths of the forest” and “over the hills and slopes, over the bogs where the new snow flies,” the skier’s thoughts drift alike to deeper, darker recesses. A world away from snow showers and the fast-paced action of Pop Bach Looks.