Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - The Ballad of the Goddess

In honor of the release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword today, I bring you an analysis of this theme. What is known now as the Ballad of the Goddess is the first harp song learned in the game, and also the theme that has been used for all promotional material leading up to this release. It is a beautiful piece, and harmonically very interesting.

(Update: 11/9/13 - had to find new youtube videos, so the notation may not match with the music, but the harmonic profile and melody are still the same.)

Here is a quick melody and bass line with a harmonic reduction I wrote out.  I’m 99% sure I got it right.
For those who have been reading up on Skyward Sword, you might have already heard that this melody is a mirror of Zelda’s Lullaby.  But I want you to see clearly that it is not just a pitch mirror, but a rhythmic mirror as well:

Pretty cool!
But really, the more interesting element of this object is the harmony.
There is an element of this object that really plays into a term that I am going to start using and developing as I continue my analysis, called the ZELDA SOUND.
The Zelda Sound started with the first game for the series and continues to this day and is evident in this object.  The Zelda sound is a particular way that the game’s composers have used mode to create harmonic variety in the music.  First look at a roman numeral analysis of the Ballad of the Goddess (don’t worry, I break it down below):
So the piece is centered around D as a tonic.  Can we call it D Major or D Minor?  That is hard to say.  Which chords in this analysis are minor?  Just the tonic chords?  The composer has borrowed from D major to have a predominantly major sonority with a minor tonic chord. 
Many of the objects in the Zelda series will liberally borrow pitches from parallel modes to create a sound that is distinctly Zelda.  Also there is a trend to use non-typical chords to fulfill a common function.  So, measure by measure, here is how I analyze this object:
For those who have been following by blog, you might notice how I hear the end of the object.  I see this object as transitioning from d minor to A major, and the A is emphasized by the “Mario Cadence.”  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click hear to read my article on the “Mario Cadence.”
After 25 years, there is a whole lot to talk about with this music.


Akast said...

Just one remark, on the 3rd measure I believe it goes up to an F instead of a Dm6. It would resolve nicer that way.

flutistjason said...

Akast, I see where you are coming from, and I will give it some thought. However, strictly melodically, the D is a very prominant pitch and sounds as if it is the harmonic pitch of the measure. The C sounds like an embellishing tone. Calling the third measure harmony an F brings into issues of modality, the use of the III chord (not unheard of in Zelda music but not typical), and you have to deal with the D in the melody. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

Akast said...

Cool. By the way, love your blog. I haven't found anyone else that does harmonic analysis on such a new art as video games.

raficus said...

If you like music theory and video games, you could also check out

I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog. I'm definitely subscribing!

raficus said...

Measure 3 isn't Dm in first inversion. It's Fadd6.

They're spelled the same, but they function differently. Despite the presence of the D, it doesn't "sound" like a minor chord, since it's a major chord.

The harp version makes it very apparent:

Great blog!

flutistjason said...

I guess my analysis is a bit hasty on measures 1-4. I will reexamine what I have done here and revise my analysis sometime soon. If we go with Fadd6 in measure 3, then we will probably want to look at measure 2 as a secondary dominant of some kind. I'm not 100% convinced either way right now on Fadd6 or Dm6 for measure 3. I need to listen to a couple different things before I make a revision.

And raficus, I have been following Cruseelroy. Note that I have a link to it at the bottom of the page. :D

raficus said...

Good call on measure 2. it's definitely the pivot chord, since VII exists diatonically in Dm.

I didn't notice the Cruise Elroy link earlier (I'm used to seeing links on the side). I just wanted to make sure you weren't re-analyzing things that Dan had fleshed out pretty well. He's got a great section on OoT music.