Posted on July 01 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.
Up until this point in our musical journey, we have been examining the vast and dangerous world of Hyrule; but from here on in, with the latter half of the Sound Selection, we’ll be looking more closely at the various towns and villages Link can discover to get a good rest, find some good food, and maybe even acquire some new clothes. These village soundtracks all come in a night and day package, and it is futile to look at one without the other. As such, these next few Musical Musings will be done as comparisons and contrasts of their partner pieces.
Introducing the Pieces
Yasuaki Iwata is the mastermind behind most of the major village themes in Breath of the Wild. Tracks 16 and 17 , ‘Rito Village (Day)’ and ‘Rito Village (Night)’ respectively, share many similarities. But the most compelling thing about them is the revival of a leitmotif I thought unlikely to reappear in a mainstream Zelda game.
Before getting to the good stuff, let’s take a quick peek at the instruments used in these pieces. As we can hear pretty early on in both iterations of the Rito theme, our piano makes a return after a short absence. Along with it comes some strings, a clarinet, as well as a beautifully played classical guitar to back it all up. (For those wondering, the difference between classical and acoustic guitars is in the strings! Classical uses nylon strings for a more mellow sound, whereas acoustic uses steel giving it a more precise and punchy sound.)
And finally, about 37 seconds into the ‘Day’ theme, we get a short demonstration of a mandolin (pictured above). A mandolin is similar to a guitar, but much smaller and has eight strings, instead of six. However, the strings double up the tuning, so instead of eight unique sounds, a mandolin has four. This is to increase the volume of the mandolin, as well as to make it easier to sustain notes by constantly picking them, as demonstrated at 0:37.
Both the guitar and mandolin are signature sounds of the Rito tribe in Breath of the Wild, and their use appears in other music related to them throughout the score, including ‘Main Theme‘ and ‘Tarrey Town.’
The first thing I’m sure anyone who is a fan of The Wind Waker will notice listening to this theme is going to notice is the freshly stylized ‘Dragon Roost Island’ theme. This theme is definitely a fan favourite (myself included), and here gets itself a beautiful makeover by Iwata. Both versions of it (‘Day’ and ‘Night’) are true to the original, with their own special flair to it. During the ‘Day,’ the leitmotif is traded between the mandolin and clarinet in a rambunctious, yet not overbearing, iteration. During the ‘Night,’ the mandolin is ousted by the piano, as well as other instruments falling away to really isolate the beautiful theme in a slow and gentle edition, almost like a lullaby. Back it all with the well-played classical guitar, and both themes become something unforgettable.
‘Rito Village (Day)’ is composed in Bb-Major, contrasting the A-Major of ‘Rito Village (Night).’ Both, however, are written in the triple meter of 6/8 time. They share essentially the same structure, and are in fact mostly just a transposition of each other.
When music is direct transposed, it means the notes are shifted into a different key, but will stay the same distance (or intervals) away. If you look above, you can see how all the notes in the A# example are just shifted down one from the Bb example. Other types of transposition change the key, but do not keep the same intervals.
A cool thing about this piece (and the original, for that matter) is that it uses one of my favourite rhythmic devices, the hemiola. A hemiola is when music written in douple meter (4/4, 2/4, 6/4, etcetera) “borrows” the rhythmic pattern of a triple meter (6/8, 9/8, 12/8, etcetera) or vice versa.
See how I’ve re-written the exact same notes, but using two different time signatures, the douple 3/4, which borrows the triple 6/8. The hemiola is quite common in Renaissance music, though I don’t think Rito Village has any correlation with the Renaissance…
Hearing the ‘Dragon Roost’ leitmotif was honestly one of my favourite parts of playing Breath of the Wild. ‘Dragon Roost Island’ is among my top 5, and I certainly thought it was destined to be a one hit wonder, and why shouldn’t it have been? A catchy tune widely loved by fans for a very specific region unlikely to appear again. So you can imagine my surprise (and pure delight!) as the piano swelled and the mandolin came in playing a tune I didn’t expect. I think I had to just stop and listen to the new arrangement for a while before continuing my journey. Definitely one of the highlights of my first time through Breath of the Wild.
So what do you think about these themes? Were you as caught off guard as I was by the ‘Dragon Roost’ leitmotif? Was it an impactful moment for you at all, or was it more of a “that’s nice” moment? Let us know in the comments below!
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!