John Williams: Summon the Heroes


John Williams composed Summon the Heroes for the 1996 Summer Olympics. It premiered in the opening ceremony held in Atlanta, Georgia and the piece was dedicated to the trumpet soloist of the Boston Pops Orchestra, Tim Morrison. At the time it was the third work composed by Williams to be used at the Olympic Games, following Olympic Fanfare (1984) and Olympic Spirit (1988). Further on in 2002, Williams composed Call of the Champions which became his last Olympic work to the present day. Generally, Summon the Heroes is rated the most highly out of all four of Williams’ Olympic compositions, with critics commenting on its development, structure and Williams’ extensive use of the brass section.


The Music

Scored for full orchestra, Summon the Heroes opens with trumpet fanfare in unison. As other parts of the brass section join in, the fanfare becomes richer and more intense in style. Fast tonguing and pristine tuning make up this section as the brass reach the first climax together. A solo trumpet then plays a variation of the solo to bridge into the next section of the piece. The lower strings accompany alongside the horns as the accompaniment becomes more populated with different sections. The strings then take part of the melody as the orchestra is properly introduced. 

The brass then start a new thrilling fanfare, accompanied by the bold percussion section. The woodwind and upper strings take over the melody and the brass interrupt with fanfares that stay at the core of this piece. The dichotomy between the broad and lush strings against the bright and tangy brass creates the two big voices of the work that battle against each other to ‘Summon the Heroes’. 

As the dynamic drops, the woodwind leads an intricate section, with blasts from the brass and upper strings. As the snare drum leads the lower brass to start building up to the ultimate climax, the trumpets reprise the opening fanfare. As more trumpets join, the rich texture becomes even louder. The fully-realised fanfare is joyous and triumphant, with the final 30 seconds of music building up from the lower brass upwards to create a huge swell of sound leading to the final three chords. 


Final Thoughts

Unlike many of John Williams’ other orchestral works, Summon the Heroes puts all the emphasis on the brass section. Williams’ masterful hand with the brass creates a piece so vivacious and brilliant, that the only stage it is truly fit for is the Olympics.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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