After having released Part 1 of “A Case for Twilight Princess: The Music” (check it out newly revised), I looked on various social media for people’s reactions. I read some opinions about the music that were similar to ones expressed about the game overall. In other words, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (TP) elicits black-and-white responses. They are pretty polarized, and there rarely is any middle ground. People either love it with the flaming passion of a thousand suns, or they hate it to the point that they’d kill it and resurrect it just to kill it again. Once in a while, I’ll read “Meh,” or “I like it about third or fourth on the list of my favorites.” By and large, however, the responses are on the opposite sides of the spectrum.
I must reiterate that I’m discussing the music with regard to the various contexts under which it exists in and outside the series. Admittedly, this endeavor assumes discourse about the music divorced from the gameplay experience of it. I realize that this approach may be naive, as the music and game play are so intertwined, but it is possible to examine the music through ways other than through the gameplay, i.e. each section of this 4-part article.
For example, I observed in Part 1 how TP borrowed from five previous games, more than any other Legend of Zelda game. Because of that fact, the composers have imbued into the game historical awareness and continuity, which lends degrees of meaning, complexity, and potential for sustained discussion. Yet dissenters typically dismiss this point as mere recycling of older themes or that the game is a boring hack that can never stand in the company of its predecessors. I hope that readers of this four-part article will take this article series as an invitation to reconsider some music previously assessed as weakness and begin to see it as a strength.
This article series demonstrates how the music of TP is among the most sophisticated and intelligent of the Zelda franchise; it possesses to a high degree narrative and associative powers through Western art-music (“classical”) techniques, more so than any other Zelda game. Here again is the breakdown of the article:
Part 1, Self-Reference:
The music of TP strikes an impressive balance between “old” and “new” music; it is the game whose music refers to more past games than any other, even OoT. In that sense, the music of TP shows most clearly its indebtedness to the past without sacrificing original, memorable themes.
Part 2, Re-Appropriation and Variation:
By referring to a selection of themes discussed in Part 1, I demonstrate that the music of TP takes themes of the past and recontexualizes them in ways that distinguish them from the way fans recognize them from previous games. In other words, TP takes familiar themes and turns them on their ear, often varying them in completely new ways from what came before.
Part 3, Thematic Unity:
In this part, I focus primarily on the Hyrule Field theme as it saturates the game and appears in varied guises, contexts, narrative points, and locations. In many ways, this theme and its versatility distinguishes TP from most, if not all, of the previous Zelda games.
Part 4, Innovation:
The final part functions more or less like a miscellaneous section. I observe some uses of music in TP with regard to new themes and where they appear in the game.
In a way, this article is inspired by and serves as a companion piece to Benjamin Lamoreux’s
The Building Blocks of Twilight Princess and Nathaniel Rumphol-Janc’s Why Twilight Princess is the Best Zelda Ever. Important note: I restrict this article to music and themes rather than the sound effects. The themes will be linked to Youtube in addition to Wiki links. Finally, if there are any inaccuracies, then please let me know in the comment section; I admit that this research is a work in progress. Onto Part 2!
Part 2, Re-Appropriation and Variation: The Familiar Defamiliarized
This part connects closely to tunes discussed in Part 1 but unpacks fewer in greater detail. Whereas Part 1 did not leave much room for argument or interpretation, this section explores the realm of possibilities. I suggest relationships between and among themes as I hear them, and I do not contend for this section to be the definitive word on these themes. Rather, this section is yet another way to demonstrate the value to the music of
TP. Because this section is more interpretive than the previous one, it invites different perspectives and debate. With that said, listen to the introduction of TP.
Legend of Zelda: Main Theme/Link’s Theme
As stated in Part 1, the
theme that introduces TP , which plays during the introduction, includes the iconic Legend of Zelda main theme.
- 0:00–0:15: Recognizable main theme; we recognize the rhythm and the pitches (notes), which happen twice (0:00–0:07 and 0:08–0:15)
- 0:15–0:30: Variation of the main melody: the rhythm is the same, but the pitches are different. Because the pitches are different, the shape of the melody (contour) changes, but players can still recognize it as the main theme. Two different variations occur at 0:15–0:23 and 0:23–0:30.
- 0:30–0:37: The last time statement of the main theme in any recognizable form.
- 0:37–0:50: While players no longer recognize the main Legend of Zelda theme, this short section borrows rhythmic fragments of its original rhythm, which both recalls the theme and establishes a connection to it.
What shows on the screen when the first 50 seconds of the intro plays?
Link rides astride Epona across Hyrule Field, which is fitting because players typically ascribe this theme to him (0:00–0:30). As Link rides, he eventually goes off-screen, and his musical theme consequently dissolves into a memory of what it once was (everything from 0:30–0:50); the theme also becomes less and less recognizable.
At the point when the main theme is no longer recognizable, something else takes over—the wolf howl. The music simulates the duality of Link as both human and wolf within 50 seconds as it transforms from the well-known theme (human Link) to the howl (Wolf Link). But the transition is so seamless! As the main theme dissolves through pitch change, listeners can still hold onto the theme because of the rhythm; it remains intact for far longer (in general, people can recall rhythms more easily than specific notes/pitches).
From the beginning of the game, the main theme is subject to re-appropriation and variation to the point of transformation. The theme is first recognizable and slowly becomes unrecognizable, even though it is still embedded within the rhythm. Similarly, listeners recognize Link as human, but they eventually do not because he transforms and becomes a variation of himself, one that is unique to
Throughout the franchise, the familiar
“Zelda’s Lullaby” has been one of the most inflexible. By that I mean that the piece has remained mostly intact since its introduction in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (ALttP). The accompaniment, the background music, has a harp or plucked-string sound (bum-bum-bum . . . . . bum-bum-bum . . . . . and so forth). In addition, the harmony rarely changes from this lullaby. This lilting accompaniment befits the genre of a lullaby, and only a few times do listeners hear it out of this character. One of the notable exceptions is when “Zelda’s Lullaby” plays in counterpoint with the main theme of The Wind Waker (at 3:01). This statement of Zelda’s theme, I believe, is the first time players hear the lullaby in counterpoint with another melody. Yet it still remains an optimistic, cheerful-sounding theme.
While players hear the traditional setting of the lullaby in
TP (see Part 1 of this article series for further detail), the composers of the game have done something entirely new with the theme when Ganondorf possesses the princess and uses her as a puppet. This is the first time that the lullaby appears divorced entirely from its recognized contexts. Since Link must battle a possessed Zelda, the lullaby appears in battle music (a boss theme) at 0:32. The theme is no longer peaceful; it does not have its typical instrumental accompaniment. Although the notes are kept intact for recognition of the melody, it quickly dissolves, while the accompaniment and harmony capture the sinister nature of Link having to battle Zelda. As far as I know, “Zelda’s Lullaby” has not appeared so varied or re-appropriated in any other Zelda game.
The next theme that merits discussion of re-appropriation and variation is that of Epona. Everyone who has played Zelda has heard that
familiar three-note descending theme, and we associate it with Link’s trusty steed. Particular to TP, however, is the theme of Link’s good friend Ilia. Although I discuss Ilia’s theme in Part 4 of this article series, I want to proffer that Ilia’s theme has a subtle reference to Epona’s theme.
In terms of the music, the opening of Ilia’s theme has a motif similar to the opening of Epona’s. They are both three notes; the notes of both melodies descend; both have the same rhythm (short-short-long); and they both repeat. In sum, both themes have a similar shape. Although it is impossible to suggest what the composers’ intentions were regarding any relationship between the two, take a look at a few appearances of the theme in context.
Thanks to the YouTube user SliceCreamSundae, who must have taken several hours to put these videos together, fans can watch all the cut scenes of the game. At 4:42, Link enters Ordon Spring in search of Epona. As far as the player is concerned, the context is on Epona, and players presumably knows what Epona’s theme sounds like if they have played
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OoT) and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (MM). In addition, at this point so early in TP, players do not know Ilia’s theme yet. At 4:42, the scene focuses on Epona and Ilia, and we hear that three-note motive. For the first few times, I thought it was Epona’s theme until I became more familiar with Ilia.
Nevertheless, since players are introduced to Ilia as a person close to Link and who also has a relationship with Epona, it makes musical and narrative sense to make their themes sound similar. This small motivic relationship between the two themes suggests a way to show the interconnectivity among characters and the cohesiveness of the narrative.
Much later in the game (Cut-scene video 3), Ilia experiences a flashback, which restores her memory. Her flashback at 5:28 resembles her first appearance at the beginning of the game, and Epona is there. These two statements of Ilia’s theme—her introduction and the moment of her healing—are among the most important in the game for her character, and they are always in conjunction with Epona. It is therefore quite possible, for the musical properties and context in the narrative, that Epona’s theme is re-appropriated and varied in Ilia’s theme.
Hyrule Castle Theme
The next two themes—Hyrule Castle and Sacred Grove—exhibit similarity in that they appear in
TP three times differently. The pioneer game to show one theme varied three times is MM, the case being the Clock Town theme in Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3. What we learn from the MM reference is how much a theme can mutate or even distort given the context of the gameplay. It is one of the most effective ways to increase tension and remind players that time is running out!
Giving a reference to Part 1 of this article series, self-reference,
TP adopts this technique; however, the Hyrule Castle and Sacred Grove themes push the envelope further in some cases. Regarding the Hyrule Castle theme, I mentioned in Part 1 that the theme can exhibit more than one association; it possesses moments of majesty and melancholy, but it also can signify danger and the Royal family (most often Zelda herself) under attack. Before I discuss the tripartite variation, here’s a reminder of the Castle Theme in TP:
The first cut scene where players hear the Castle theme occurs at 17:36, and it recalls the character of the first appearance of the theme back in
ALttP. Yet the theme plays as Zelda and her guards fall to Zant’s attack and capturing of the castle. The theme reoccurs shortly thereafter when Zelda reveals herself to Midna and Wolf Link at 20:02. Both excerpts of the theme display the associations of both majesty and danger.
The tripartite statement occurs when Link enters the castle towards the end of the game and approaches Ganondorf. What makes these statements of the theme all the more interesting is that the multi-faceted potential of the theme—Majestic? Melancholy? Sign of danger?—disappears and becomes one dimensional. It is clearly in the context of evil. For the first time in the theme’s history, it is put in counterpoint with
Ganondorf’s theme, which makes it less majestic and more maleficent. Thematic mutation, analogous to the Clock Theme of MM, begins the closer Link approaches Ganondorf. The Castle theme varies and varies, eventually fading under Ganondorf’s evil theme. Compare the first, second, and third versions of the Hyrule Castle theme.
The other theme that has a three-part variation is the Sacred Grove. Before we get into the three variations, however, here is a reminder as to how the theme is re-appropriated from its original context in OoT in TP. The original Saria’s Song is bouncy, cheerful, and almost dance-like because of its “boom-chuck” accompaniment. The accompaniment lends a percussive, comparatively aggressive character to the theme.
TP, however, the theme is deceptively casual. It has a soft, almost hypnotic harp accompaniment. The theme loses its original dance-like character; there is no more “boom-chuck” accompaniment, and it is no longer attributed to Saria. The transfer from OoT to TP marks a significant re-appropriation of Saria’s Song; the character of each theme is quite different. In fact, here is a video, courtesy of YouTube user Chris-Rigby Piano, who gives a lovely transition between the two characters of the same theme:
As for the three-part variation of the Sacred Grove theme, the first statement of the theme is in its original form, occurring from 0:00–0:48. This is the theme players hear when Link first enters the realm after Zelda sacrifices herself to save Midna’s life. After being instructed to find the Master Sword, Link and Midna approach the Sacred Grove. Link must summon the Skull Kid after howling “Zelda’s Lullaby” at a Howling Stone. Link must follow the mischievous character throughout the Grove, who often calls puppets to harass Link. At this point, the music changes character significantly.
At 0:48, the main theme takes a back seat to an unnerving motive in the lower registers, which sounds to me like a bassoon or a lower-wind instrument accompanied by a plucked bass (pizzicato). The main theme, which was once casual and familiar to players now is a theme that can actually signify danger or at least frustration for Link.
The third time players hear the main theme, it is from the Skull Kid himself. He plays the melody with his horn (at 1:39), which functions as an aural hint for Link to follow if he gets lost in the Sacred Grove. This horn melody is added onto the previous motive of the puppets, which makes the theme all the more divorced from its original contexts.
In Part 1 of this article series, I alluded to but did not describe
TP’s incorporation of another MM theme, and I left it for Part 2 because the melody diverges from its original context considerably. In MM, Link must learn the “Goron’s Lullaby” to put the crying Goron Baby to sleep; it also has the ability to put other characters to sleep throughout the game. The repeated, rising three-note motif appears varied twice in TP.
On the one hand, Wolf Link howls the lullaby near the Lake Hylia Howling Stone; it is also called “Goron’s Lullaby” once the player learns the piece. The shape and the notes of the melody are slightly different from that of MM’s, but the three-note motif suggests the close connection.
On the other hand, a more subtle reference, however, follows in the Goron Mines theme. Simulating the sound of a pitched percussion instrument, a variation of the lullaby theme begins the track. The theme, however, is much faster in tempo, does not have the original accompaniment, and is followed by different musical material altogether. The only things that remain intact from the original are the rising contour and the pitch content (the notes are the same).
Both instances of the Goron Lullaby show some relationship to the
MM original, but they show more variation and contextual re-appropriation than anything else.
Prelude of Light
The final instance of re-appropriation and variation happens with the Prelude of Light. While the original melody comes from OoT, players hear it in its most recognizable form as one of the Wolf Songs. The theme is six notes long and is characterized by a lot of leaps between each note (disjunct) and by rhythmic life because the longer note values occur off the beat (syncopation). The OoT theme gives the clearest example of these melodic and rhythmic nuances.
There are two possible variations of this theme. The first comes early in
TP when Link blows into the Hawk Grass (it also happens again when Wolf Link must tame a Twilit Kargarok near Lake Hylia). The main variation between this theme and the original OoT theme is rhythmic. Other than its rhythm, the pitches and the leaps in the melody are all the same.
There is one other possible variation or at least an allusion to the Prelude of Light, which occurs in the Temple of Time dungeon theme. At 0:04, there can be a subtle allusion to the rhythmic profile of the Temple of Time theme, and it is entirely possible as the context (time) and location (Temple of Time) connect the music.
I thought that this article would be shorter than the first one, but I kept finding examples. My apologies. Yet this installment served as a counterpart to the first part of the article series. Part 1 showed
TP’s indebtedness to the past, and this current installment demonstrates how several of those instances have either re-appropriated or varied those themes often in new ways. Some examples even appear in completely different guises to the point that they have become difficult to recognize. That also is the beauty of this installment, as the variations I have presented are open to debate. While I do not advance these ideas as the last word on these relationships, they present yet again the richness of TP’s music.
As I am wont to do in these articles, I try to link major themes and musical procedures to a music-history lesson of some sort. Borrowing material from pre-existing pieces and reinventing them was among the best ways for musicians to demonstrate both knowledge of their trade and proficiency of their craft. And I am not talking exclusively about the “theme and variation” method, where a composer either takes or writes a theme and subjects it to numerous variations. Composers often took well known pieces from past composers or even their own works and used them for musical material.
The revere of Beethoven’s compositions and especially the aesthetics of Romanticism (approximately 1825 to 1914, depending on the source) contributed to the notion that music had to be 100% original in order to be considered acceptable, let alone good. Yet there are cases all over the place—Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Mozart, Bach—where composers took a pre-existing theme and made it their own. For example, Mozart wrote twelve piano variations on the theme “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman.” If that title doesn’t ring a bell, then perhaps you might recognize it as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” The old theme bore new signs of the composer’s style and invention.
Playing well-known tunes and spinning them differently was also a sure-fire way for composers to become popular among audiences, as they could hear their favorite tunes, oftentimes in new contexts. A similar thing happens within the
Legend of Zelda universe, and I believe it happens most often and most compellingly in the music of Twilight Princess.
As we complete the halfway mark of the article series, treatment of pre-existing themes officially has ended, though they may pop up again in reference to Part 4. The remaining two Parts will focus on music composed specifically for
TP, and Part 3 treats exclusively the Hyrule Field theme. Thank you, again, for your kind attention and for reading. I look forward to hearing your constructive comments below. Cheers!