On a trip last summer to Vienna and Budapest, I had the chance to listen to concerts that were played in venues similar to those for which the music was composed. In Vienna, my wife and I attended a concert in the Vienna Opera House by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra and it struck me how intertwined all the art, architecture, and culture of the period influenced the compositions of Mozart.
Then, in Budapest, we got to listen to the famous Bach “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” played on a pipe organ in the largest Cathedral in Budapest, as well as a performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” in the same venue. It was magical to hear that pipe organ reverberating throughout the marble halls, up to the arching dome, and back again. The “Requiem” was being dedicated to a pastor from the Cathedral who had just passed away, and the emotion was palpable as the voices from the choir echoed off the ornate marble and gold walls of the Cathedral.
So I began to think about the importance of place, time, architecture, art and culture on music. I began to realize how interconnected they have always been, from Bach to Rock, and up to the present day dance music scene. I also thought about how important music is to the video game world and how it helps to shape and define the character of each game. In this article, I will go into some real world and some fictional world examples of how music interacts and intertwines with the world in which and for which it is written.
Vienna Opera House
J.S. Bach and the Baroque Period
Let’s start with Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and the baroque period. According to Wikipedia, Baroque as a cultural movement “Emphasizes power and authority, characterized by intricate detail and without the “disturbing angst” of Mannerism. Essentially is exaggerated Classicism to promote and glorify the Church and State. Occupied with notions of infinity.1” The Baroque period was brought about after the Council of Trent declared that art and architecture could support the causes of the Catholic Church in its fight against the reformation. Thus, it was unusually grand in scale with large columns and painted frescoes to show the power of the Church.
Bach’s organ oeurve was intended for the great cathedrals of his day and are characterized by strength, power, divinity and order. Many of those Cathedrals still stand today, and until this trip, I had never heard his work performed in situ. Bach is an exponent of Baroque music, and below is the example of both the architecture of the period and his famous Toccata and Fugue (to which there is some confusion over precise authorship), here played by Sean Jackson:
Here are some examples of the type of art and architecture that were popular in Bach’s Day, including some images of a gorgeous pipe organ:
The next piece I wanted to talk about, whose exact authorship is also contested, is Mozart’s “Requiem”. I had the chance to hear this performed in the same cathedral, St. Stephan’s Basilica in Budapest. It was performed by an orchestra with the exact makeup as the original score, and sung by a choir and four soloists, precisely as it was in its debut. Hearing this haunting and beautiful piece in a cathedral transported me to the time and place of its composer (or composers as may be the case in this composition.)
One of my favorite movements in this song is the Sanctus movement, which starts at 34:34 in the above video. The movement following at 36:30, Benidictus is in stark contrast and in some ways even more beautiful than Sanctus. Apart from those movements, which may have been added later by another composer, this song harkens back to the more somber and less “decorative” Baroque pieces. Perhaps that is because it is a funeral piece written for the 14th anniversary of the passing of Count Franz von Walsegg’s wife, and perhaps also that is because it was played in a Baroque cathedral and dedicated to the passing of a priest from that basilica. Here are some images from inside and outside of St. Stephan’s Basilica in Budapest:
Vienna Opera House
The next concert was at the Vienna Opera House where the Vienna Mozart Orchestra, dressed in period dress, performed a medley of Mozart hits, both orchestral and operatic. As this was a concert designed more for tourists than true classical music fans, they threw in some Strauss Waltzes and Marches at the end of the concert as crowd pleasers.
By this point, I had been immersed in the art, architecture, history and culture of the Roccoco period (late Baroque) for several days, and it was here, in the same type of opera house that many of these songs got their debut, that the realization came to me. All the decorative beauty of the age, exemplified in the art, architecture and design of this magnificent age, had heavily influenced the work of its composers. Mozart is known for its decorative style, full of mordents and trills. These solidified in my mind as all the decorative additions seen in the art and architecture of the day.
Here is a statue of Mozart located in the park behind the magnificent Hofberg Palace, and the inside of the Vienna Opera House, built in 1861 by the Habsburgs in the Neo-Renaissance style.
Frommer’s has this to say about Roccoco architecture in Vienna, “The rococo style developed as a more ornate, somewhat fussier progression of the baroque. Gilt stucco, brightly colored frescoes, and interiors that drip with embellishments are its hallmarks. Excellent examples include the Abbey of Dürnstein (1731-35) and Melk Abbey, both in Lower Austria. One of the most powerful proponents of rococo was Maria Theresa, who used its motifs so extensively within Schönbrunn Palace during its 1744 renovation that the school of Austrian rococo is sometimes referred to as “late-baroque Theresian style.2“
The Empress Maria Theresa first heard the young Mozart during his so called “Grand Tour” in 1762.3 On a tour of Schönbrunn Palace, my wife and I got to stand in the very room where Mozart first performed for the Empress! It was one of the most magical moments of the trip for me. I could really image the young Mozart playing for a small private audience in the heavily carpeted and ornately decorated room for the Empress and her family. Perhaps her daughter, the young 7 year old Marie Antoinette was there listening to the 6 year old Mozart perform!
Music of Video Games – Chance Thomas’ Lord of the Rings Online
How does all this relate to the music we hear in video games? In every game we play, the artists and architects of the game world usually define the “art direction” of the game. Composers, who are usually hired long after this art direction has been decided, need to fully immerse themselves into this game world in order to create music that is appropriate to its style.
Perhaps the best example of this is Chance Thomas’ score for Lord of the Rings Online and other LOTR games. In his keynote address at GameSoundCon, he described how he immersed himself in the “culture” of Middle Earth by reading all the novels and underlining and earmarking each and every reference to music and musical instruments of each of the world’s races. I am sure he drew upon references to the architecture and locales that each lived in as well. He even reasoned that Elves would use lutes with animal gut strings, but Dwarves would use lutes with metal strings. If you listen to the music that he composed for the game, you will see how closely he nailed each and every culture in his brilliant music. I spent hundreds of hours wandering LOTRO, and one of the main reasons I kept coming back despite the somewhat dated game engine was the beautiful and sweeping music that Chance wrote for this game.
For the race of MEN, you can hear the noble sounds in Chance’s “Theme of Rohan”:
And contrast that with the beautiful scenery and music of the ELVES: ”Ages of the Golden Wood” from my favorite location in the entire game:
And here the beautiful flute melody and guitar accompaniment for the Druid Tom Bombadil:
And finally the music of the DWARVES : “A Journey in the Dark”, which accompanied my many hours wandering, lost and confused, in the Mines of Moria:
My musical experiences in Vienna and Budapest led me to realize the importance as a game composer to really immerse myself into the world of the game as deeply as possible. Live the art, architecture, culture and if possible, even recreate the musical instruments from each part of the game world to make my music fit into that world as well as Mozart, Bach, and Chance Thomas’s music fit into their respective worlds.