The Music of the Olympics: Lighting the Athens Cauldron (2004)

The opening and closing ceremonies of each Olympic games are always full of music, but the most important musical moment of all comes at the very end, when the Olympic cauldron is lit. Every Olympics it feels like a contest to see who can use the most elaborate way to light the cauldron , and the 2004 Summer Games in Athens were no exception.


For whatever reason, back in 2004 when this played on TV, I didn’t stay through to the end of the ceremony. When I went back several years later and finally watched it, I regretted not tuning in, because it was beautiful!

The final torch relay is full of suspense and excitement, because all this time the Olympic Cauldron has not been visible, so no one has any idea how the ceremony is going to end. And the music in this segment, oh wow, would you believe it was written by Dmitri Shostakovich? You usually hear his name in reference to operas or symphonies, you wouldn’t think of it for the Olympics, but it’s true! The music here is the final movement of the Pirogov Suite that Shostakovich created for a 1947 Soviet film named (no surprise) Pirogov.

Shostakovich- Pirogov finale (1947)

As the torch circles the stadium and changes hands, the tension audibly builds with each exchange, until finally the final torchbearer is reached. And as the camera circles around, everyone gets excited because the cauldron is finally visible! And when the torchbearer turns and runs through the athletes to reach the cauldron, I get goosebumps every time because the music almost explodes at this point. It’s a beautiful fanfare that makes the moment feel extremely special. And then there’s the fact that the cauldron is literally bending down to the ground so it can be lit!!! 

Athens Cauldron Lighting (2004)

You can’t really grasp how HUGE this thing is until the runner is coming up the last set of steps and the camera pans up to the cauldron and you’re like WHOA!! It’s so thrilling to watch, especially when the cauldron is lit and begins its slow rise back upward (the roar of the crowd as the flames rise up is just spine-tingling).

I love the spectacle that comes with the Olympics, and I can’t wait to share more examples as the Rio Games get closer 🙂 -Bex

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For more Olympic Music, see:

The Music of the Olympics: Lighting the Cauldron at Sydney (2000)

The Music of the Olympics: “Summon the Heroes” Atlanta 1996


One thought on “The Music of the Olympics: Lighting the Athens Cauldron (2004)

  1. Pingback: The Music of the Olympics: Lighting the Cauldron at Sydney (2000) | Film Music Central

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