Posted on April 15 2019 by Matt Pederberg
Music is a defining feature of The Legend of Zelda series, so much so that it becomes its own character. The soundscape molds Hyrule around Link and his friends, giving character to those he interacts with and helps the player connect with them on an emotional level. The awe-striking music from The Legend of Zelda played a significant role in why I chose to pursue Bachelor’s Degree in music, and it is why I have decided to take an in-depth look at different tracks throughout the scores that inspire me as a musician. I thought a good starting point would be Breath of the Wild, one of the soundtracks that I am least familiar with. Now, seeing as Breath of the Wild has a little over 4 hours worth of music (that’s 211 tracks, wow!), I figured I would start with working my way through the Sound Selection CD included in all limited editions of Breath of the Wild’s original release.
A 3D Zelda game wouldn’t be a 3D Zelda game without the experience of horseback riding. Breath of the Wild‘s expansive areas make horseback nearly essential (until late-game that is). Riding your horse through the landscape is often a very calming experience (when there aren’t things trying to kill you that is…), and as such, Manaka Kataoka endeavored to create a piece to match the “wind in your hair”-type feel.
Introducing the Piece
Track 6, “Riding (Day),” can be experienced any time the player puts Link on a horse (during the day, of course). As such, depending on your play-style, this theme is probably quite familiar to most Breath of the Wild fans. This tune aims to give a sense of whimsy, almost like you could find something new and exciting behind the next hill or clump of trees. All you have to do is take your horse over that ridge!
Similarly to the “Field (Day)” theme, this piece utilizes practically only the familiar piano as its vessel. The piece itself is essentially this ostinato on the piano:
The intriguing thing about this ostinato is twofold. The first is that the bass line remains the same rhythmically (eighth-notes on every strong beat), but shifts in pitch ever so slightly. This effect is gained by simply playing with different chords underneath the ostinato. This keeps your ears interested without being too intrusive, a major theme of Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack. The second intriguing thing is the way those aforementioned eighth-notes trick our ears into hearing the piece in 4/4 instead of the 6/8 it is actually in. This is accentuated by the strings part (which starts at 0:43). The very long notes don’t give us much to ground on, so our minds default to the easiest/most common time signature, which in the Western world is 4/4, the time signature of essentially every song on the radio. Keen eared listeners may also pick up on another subtlety in the string section. But we’ll take a look at that in the Theoretical Analysis. The last thing I want to draw attention to is the way the bass clef (bottom clef) breaks up the treble clef (top clef). You can hear the chunk-chika-chunk, almost like the pattern of a horse’s gallop.
This piece introduces a couple new and interesting concepts that haven’t cropped up yet in our musical journey. But first of all, the basics: The piece is written in Eb-Major, and as we established earlier is in 6/8. It keeps true to these facts throughout the piece. Anything more interesting would distract players from their goal. The piece is very centric around Eb, barely diverging, going along with our simplicity theme. But again, at 0:43, the strings enter. Again, it’s very simple. There’s no harmony between the strings, just a long, melismatic line (melismatic here meaning long and simple). However, if the listener were to condense the string part into shorter notes (we call this process “diminution”), we would come up with this:
Those of you unable to get your ears around this example can try listening to 0:43 at double or triple speed. Eventually, you’ll start to hear the familiar “Zelda’s Lullaby” hidden in the violin. Though I have used diminution, Kataoka has actually used the opposite operation of “augmentation” to expand the familiar tune over the ostinato.
I was actually quite unfamiliar with this track for the majority of my first playthrough of Breath of the Wild. I usually ended up abandoning a horse pretty much as soon as I hit a cliff (because I actually like climbing). Then by the time I was actually travelling to find things like Koroks or Shrines, I already had most of the fast travel locations available. As such, I have only really listened to this track out of context. This really changes my opinion of its place in the game. I think it is a rather cheerful tune that works nicely as study music. Thus, I feel it accomplishes its goal of being something easy to listen to whilst focusing on more important things. I can remember, though, the first time I got on a horse and “Zelda’s Lullaby” came in, I thought, “About time they use some familiar material!”
What are your feelings on this piece? Do you think it fulfills its role, or do you find it lackluster? Or are you like me, and didn’t even notice it at all? Give me a shout in the comments and let me know!
Matt Pederberg is part of the Writing Team at Zelda Dungeon, holds a Bachelor of Music, and has used that knowledge to develop his love of excellent music in excellent video games!