Zelda, Bach, etc.
I’m unreasonably excited for Tears of the Kingdom, so I’ve naturally been talking everyone’s ear off about it, including Anna (my wife! ❤️). I was talking at her about the series and why it means so much to me and so many others, and the music came up. I played some songs for her and she recognized a lot of them from TikTok and such.
Then I decided to pack my bags and go full nostalgia trip by listening to a bunch of Zelda music on YouTube. It happens.
I ended up going way back to the start. And something really caught my ear about this music from the first Zelda game.
I’ve been listening to the Apple Music Classical series The Story of Classical, which I highly recommend. In the episode on the Baroque period, Guy Jones (the host of the series and head of curation for the app) plays back Bach’s Partita No. 2 for D Minor. He calls out Bach’s use of double and triple stopping, the technique of playing two or more notes at once across multiple strings, and how it implies chords and accompaniment beyond what a solo violin was typically capable of.
The NES was also limited in the sounds it could output. It could play two melody lines at once, with a few different wave types and varying volumes. It could play a bass line at one volume and only in a triangle wave. It had a noise channel that could be used for drums or perhaps some odd melodies. It also had a channel that could play very compressed samples. The video below has a good overview.
You can guess where I’m going with this. The original Zelda theme does so much with so little. The high melody sticks to the main notes while the harmony line has a bit more fun with it, echoing and iterating on the theme. The bass keeps everything steady and the drums just tap along. But it implies so much beyond those four channels. You can just feel the whole orchestra playing the theme, starting low and swelling to meet those early high notes. Compare it to the 25th anniversary album that fills in the gaps for the theme:
Excellent as well. But there’s something about the necessary minimalism of the original soundtrack that just hits right. I think something about its implied orchestration ties into that sense of wonder and exploration that has so perfectly been captured in Breath of the Wild. What’s behind that mountain? What’s peeking out from around this hill? Who knows, there could be a full orchestra around any corner!