Posted on June 17 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.
Link’s journey through Hyrule can be a lonely one. But sometimes, along the way, our hero meets all sorts of people from different cultures, histories, and races. Some of them are helpful, some are just passers by. But one in particular is a combination of the two.
Introducing the Piece
Kass is one of my favorite Zelda characters, mainly because he can fly and plays the accordion! But he’s also mysterious in a way that is never quite resolved in Breath of the Wild. To accompany Kass, Yasuaki Iwata composed the fitting melody, “Kass’ Theme,” which is track 13 on the Sound Selection.
This piece stands out, if for no other reason, than for the instrument it is played on. This is one of the few solo pieces in the soundtrack, and it is played on the wonderful instrument known as an accordion. The accordion is an incredibly interesting instrument. Its main mechanism is in fact a bellows, like what one would use to stoke a fire. When pressed together, the airflow created brushes past a series of reeds inside the box that create the sounds you hear. So it is essentially like a couple hundred oboe players at your beck and call! One side is covered with a manual, or keyboard, for playing the melody, whereas the other side has a series of buttons. These buttons have preset chords that can be played in any inversion. As such, the accordion is really a test of coordination.
“Kass’ Theme” is a simple tune, only spanning a total of eight measures on loop. But these eight measures say so much to the player. They are a solid leitmotif (a certain section of music that is specific to a character or place), and they alert Link to the presence of adventure and the promise of some kind of legend. The accordion was an excellent choice for Kass because it is portable and has a certain association with pirates and wayfarers, of which Kass is at least one. The simple melody is nonthreatening and certainly has an air of interest to it, almost inviting the player to see the curiosities its player has. And what Link finds is exactly what one might expect: a troubadour who has found his way to a most interesting location, waiting to impart wisdom on he who cared to join in the song.
“Kass’ Theme” is all about simplicity in its structure. It’s the virtuosity of the player that makes it extraordinary. It is a simple waltz, keeping a standard 6/8 meter throughout. But the tempo is actually played rubato (Italian for ‘robbed’). This means the tempo is essentially a guideline, more so than an actual rule, and it can shift here and there as the player decides. The key signature is the most basic minor key, a-minor, which has no sharps or flats. Yet it is composed in such a way that the piece essentially never lands on the tonic until the very end. There is certainly sense of a tonal center, but it always sounds like an afterthought.
This is the bare skeleton of the piece. We can see how it follows the regular structure of i-iv-v-i (in a-minor that’s Am-Dm-Em-Am), but only if we look very hard. The opening measure alludes to the i, and the rest are all mingled in. The other flair piece for Kass present in this theme is the trills:
Trills are not present in much of Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack, so when they make an appearance it’s good to take note. The most important thing to note about them is that they never appear in any music related to either a Guardian or ancient technology. Trills are reserved specifically for humanoids, likely as their imperfection is below machines. Other notable place that trills appear are in the Dragon theme and other angelic moments. Dragons in Breath of the Wild are essentially revered as gods and goddesses, so essentially trills are reserved for the divine, hinting that Kass, through his music, is capable of playing music at a degree much higher than any normal being in Hyrule.
I have a lot of favorites in the Breath of the Wild track listing, but “Kass’ Theme” really takes the cake for me. This is mostly owing to the combination of an excellent track and an excellent character. The fact that it is played on a unique instrument also helps to make it really stand out. This piece is the kind of bouncy sea shanty that I didn’t know I needed until I first heard it. It makes me want to continue adventuring and seeking Kass out wherever he may end up, and knowing that whenever I do find him, he’s going to have a brand new challenge. The fact that Kass’ character has many similarities with Guru-Guru from Ocarina of Time is just a bonus. This piece simply makes me happy and makes me really wish that I owned an accordion!
What did you think of this side-0y-side analysis? Which track do you prefer, “Kass’ Theme” or “Song of Storms?” Let us know your thoughts 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!