Tag Archives: Leo Arnaud

Following up on Leo Arnaud

conductor-leo-1One of the very first blog entries I wrote here was one about the film composer Leo Arnaud, who is best-known for the music we know as the Olympics theme, which originally was written as a brass piece called Bugler’s Dream.

I’ve received several excellent comments from readers about Arnaud, in particular from people who knew him and had many nice things to say about him. To save everyone the trouble of going back to that post to read those comments again, here are three of them:

Just yesterday, August 16, 2008, I visited the final resting place of Sir Leo Arnaud in Yadkin Co., N.C. His wife (now deceased) was a friend of my mother’s and I had been a guest in their home. He was a brilliant man even into his late 80’s. I had always loved Olympic Fanfare even before meeting him and find it very exciting to have this personal connection to the Olympics. I was delighted to find your blog and know that Sir Leo would be humbly proud. His wife was a dear, precious lady. He told me that the first time he saw her, he thought, “She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” Thank you for acknowledging his genius and keeping his memory alive…
– Patricia Spencer

I often think of Leo, especially every four years during the Olympics. During the late 70’s some friends and I had the pleasure of meeting Leo when he still lived in Beverly Hills. He told us many stories – how as a child he would watch Debussy go into a music store; his stories of Ravel and the early Jazz era in France; how as a young man he was was to play a cello solo and he looked up and Saint Saens was playing the organ. I wish I could remember all the stories. He was brilliant.
– Tim Judy

I am originally from Hamptonville and had the pleasure of meeting Sir Leo at my father’s lumber company there in 1982. We became good friends, and I visited his home many times. We had wonderful discussions about music. He was such a character and told great stories. I had just graduated from college with a degree in piano. He was happy for me to play his piano, and many times he would play along on his cello. He even played his cello at my wedding in 1985. I feel so lucky that our lives crossed paths.
– Gail Casstevens-Dunn

The other day I heard from Regina DeDominicis, a mom, graphic designer and student at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill., which is not far from where I grew up. I took courses there during high school for extra credit many years ago, so it was most interesting to hear from someone who lives in the part of the country where I grew up.

Regina has done a Flash animation presentation about Arnaud featuring some good pictures of the composer and a narration of the facts of his life by a voice actor telling his story. It’s interesting, and adds some good detail to his story that I was unaware of.

I’ll try to download the swif and post it, but I don’t think WordPress will let me do that (and indeed, it won’t). Perhaps Regina will post it somewhere we can all see it. In any case, she’s provided the picture of Mr. Arnaud for the top of this post, and I very much appreciate it; I’d been unable to find any photo of him anywhere before Regina’s note.

The thing I take away from all this is that there are any number of musicians in society at any one time who add to the richness of our civilization even when we don’t know their names.

It feels good to shed a little more light, thanks to all of you, on the work of someone who wrote a short piece that must be one of the most familiar in the world, and to reunite that music with its creator.

Leo Arnaud’s Olympics brand

Working today on the final version of a choral piece I need to finish in the next day or two, and then it’s on to two piano pieces I’ve promised to a performer that have been sitting on the shelf for a few weeks during all the chaos at work.

But while I take a break from all that, I’m going to point out, as I did during the last Olympic games, one of the minor heroes of its TV coverage.

And that would be the Frenchman Leo Arnaud (1904-1991), who was
one of the many behind-the-scenes orchestrators and music men during the golden age of Hollywood. He was nominated for an Oscar for the orchestration work he did on The Unsinkable Molly Brown in 1964 (here’s a bit from it):


But Arnaud’s lasting contribution to the world of music is a 30-second -or-so bit of a piece he wrote around 1958 for Felix Slatkin (father of Leonard), who was making a bunch of orchestral albums at the time that showed off flashy sounds that would come off well on the new stereo equipment then making its way into American homes. One of those pieces was called Bugler’s Dream, and we have known it since 1968 as the theme of the Olympics.

We used to play an arrangement of it in high school band, and there was a bit right after the fanfare that always reminded me of Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, and I found it finally on YouTube in a video taken from TV during the 1996 Atlanta Games:


For me, you can’t get much better than this theme for an Olympics brand (the beauty part for me is the second time through, when the chord sequence goes from I-V to I-iii-vi). The second you hear it, you think of the Games, and that’s an interesting kind of immortality. It reminds me, too, of the unexpected direction lives can take.

Arnaud, after all, studied with Maurice Ravel and Vincent d’Indy, and you simply couldn’t have studied with more eminent musicians as French music student of the time. Then he had a career as a jazz trombonist in the 1920s, after France went mad for jazz when James Reese Europe played this hot new music for them in the days after the end of World War I. That’s an interesting mix, to say the least.

Arnaud was one of those many thousands of workers in the film industry who helped make movie magic for billions of people, which maybe makes the first thing you think is: OK, a commercial hack who got lucky. But commercial music isn’t easy to do. It takes a great deal of skill, and it’s not for nothing that the sound studios of Los Angeles needed to get first-rate people as movies became more and more intricate.

So I like to think of Leo Arnaud as one of the unsung professionals who brought the work in on time, under budget, tirelessly and probably with no more than the usual complaint. In other words, your basic working guy, though in a much more glamorous field.

I’d love to hear from anyone who worked with him or knew him; he must have gotten a good bit of satisfaction out of hearing his music become associated indelibly with these great world events of sport. You have to think it made him proud.