Posted on June 10 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.
Sometimes constantly running around, getting shot at, getting blown up, and uncovering countless secrets becomes too much for a hero. As such, sometimes one needs to take a short rest. In Breath of the Wild, these opportunities often feel few and far between, but the ideal spot for one of these rests is one of the many stables found along the road.
Introducing the Piece
With track 12, “Stables,” we come to the half-way mark of the Sound Selection, as well as the third track by Yasuaki Iwata. Iwata is able to masterfully craft a completely unique soundscape for the various stables. The theme itself is always a breath of fresh air, cuing in the arrival of someplace that the player knows is safe to enter without fear of being bombarded by villainous types.
This piece is composed for only four instruments: a Classical Guitar, a set of Congas, a Tambourine, and the most interesting to note, the shinobue flute. For those long-time readers of Musical Musings may remember the shinobue from the very first track, “Main Theme.” In that track it was featured front and center, similarly to the “Stable” theme. This wooden flute gives the necessary ‘organic’ quality that over-arches the entire piece. We also see again in this piece that the piano is not present. It seems that as Link gets farther and farther from the Shrine of Resurrection, so does the soundtrack slowly start to fall from its driving force.
This piece is an excellent example of a calming tune in a Zelda game. Every Zelda title has at least one, and the “Stables” theme filled that hole well. The classical guitar is an already calming sound to the listener. It is not a harsh and abrupt sound like a crash cymbal, nor is it pointed and direct like a trumpet. Instead it is soothing like a harp and invites the player towards the sound. Likewise, the tambourine trill is not aggressive. It is more like the soft shimmering of a gentle breeze through fallen leaves. Again, this beckons the player in, almost whispering of the coming safe haven. Finally, the shinobue comes in, completing the alluring call of the safe haven. Its gentle lilt is so soft and comforting that it truly makes the new discovery, for lack of a better word, “stable”.
This “stability” in a harsh world is given even more meaning as we delve into the actual theory of this piece. The piece is composed in the most stable of all key signatures, 4/4. It is also in the key of D-Major, only two sharps, thus simple to play and learn, and one of the most pleasing keys to the ear. It is also a classic example of a piece that layers itself to maintain interest. For example, consider the opening bars of guitar:
Now, the guitar line is a repeated phrase, so the above is considered phrase A. Now let’s look at the repeated phrase:
We now call this A Prime (abbreviated as A’), as it shares the same structure as A, but with variations. The chord progression is still the same, in fact it mostly just revolves around the tonic (D), thus making it even more “stable.” But you can see the first three bars are where our layering happens. The notes are exactly the same, with the addition of the third on top (again, the most “stable” note to add on).
Some sharp-eared listeners may have also heard a familiar snippet in the first three notes of measure 4 of A’:
This motif can be heard in both the guitar (0:45) and by the shinobue, first at 0:27, then again as the theme goes on. It is in fact the historical motif, Epona’s Song. How fitting for Iwata to throw in such a callback in a place so linked with horses, once again giving veteran Zelda players a place of stability, something familiar that they know is safe.
This track is one of my most beloved in the game. It is such a vivid memory, my first time hearing those congas coming over the ridge, drawing my attention. Then the flute comes in as I settled in towards the strange, yet welcoming structure. The piece really is soothing, and is one that I can listen to on end. In fact I did so frequently when reading my Music History classes! It really captures the vibe of “home base,” which for me the stables really were. If I wasn’t warping to a town, I was most often fast travelling to a stable, and I was always glad to hear this theme greeting me once again.
What was your first encounter with this theme? Did you run into it on the road at the beginning of your adventure? Or was it long after it had started? Do you find yourself coming back to the stables? 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!