When Chariots of Fire was released in 1981, it came with a unique soundtrack by Vangelis. At that time, putting a soundtrack of electronic music on a period film was unheard of. The music worked, though, because of the simple, beautiful melodies and the way Vangelis used synthesizers in an orchestral way.
Chariots of Fire captures Vangelis at the peak of his early sound. While no one will have escaped the catchy main theme, there is a lot of other music on Chariots of Fire that is not as well known, but that holds up well after twenty years. The first five tracks introduce the main themes that were used in the film. After the “Titles”, “Five Circles” is a quiet, pensive them. It’s played with a synthesized brass sound that sounds vaguely like a french horn. “Abraham’s Theme” is another reflective song. It’s played with the bell-like tone of Fender Rhodes piano. The main theme is simple and folk-like. Vangelis adds tension by adding a variety of strange synth sounds in the background.
“Eric’s Theme” is classic Vangelis, with a simple melody supported by synth strings, wordless vocals, and orchestral percussion. The music is tastefully arranged, and is one of the best examples of Vangelis creating a large orchestral sound by combining synthesizers with acoustic percussion. “Eric’s Theme” builds to a huge crescendo, and then modulates to another key and builds to another great crescendo. This track captures the full glory of the Olympics.
The next cut is the abstract “100 Metres”. This cut sounds like it could be straight off of Vangelis’ CD Beaubourg. This abstract music captures the tension and focus of the runners as they prepare for, and run their races. This fades into the next track, “Jerusalem”, which is a straightforward take on the traditional tune.
The highlight of the album is the long track “Chariots of Fire”. This music is inspired by the movie, but not taken directly from it. The music is a sort of new-age piano concerto or fantasy. The work is vaguely programmatic, inspired by the events of the movie.
It starts with the sounds of surf, and a synthesized french horn that plays the main title theme. The “Titles” them is then introduced on piano, with synthesized orchestral support. Vangelis treats it very freely and interweaves other themes from the movie. Vangelis captures all of the emotions of the movie, but puts them together into a grand symphonic electronic fantasy.
Chariots of Fire is a landmark of movie music, won the Academy Award for best soundtrack, and holds up well as a great example of symphonic electronic music.