This week I’m going to look at music appreciation through vgm. Essentially, this is to help increase familiarity with different musical styles through videogames.
First up is the Baroque period of music (1600-1760). While the layman often classifies anything that is played on the music station as “Classical”, these are actually broken up into individual styles based on particular musical periods. Works by Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel characterize this style. Baroque style is a dead giveaway through the use of a limited number and variety of instruments, primarily violin, harpsichord, and organ. Handel is noted for using brass, but most composers of the time did not; same goes for percussion, which is nearly absent, though the harpsichord was more often used to mark meter than it was for melody. The period serves as the foundation of modern music through the development of the suite and the refinement of musical instruments. The most famous work from this period was Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, which demonstrated musical composition in each key (major and minor), demonstrating the flexibility of the keyboard.
This brings us to today’s Daily, “Clockwork” from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989). “Clockwork” is one of the most easily-identifiable pieces from the Baroque style from a videogame. Though on the Famicom’s 2A03 sound chip (using a VRC6 expansion programmed by Hidenori Maezawa), we can still plainly tell that the instruments used are harpsichord due to the high-pitched plinking. The harpsichord is essentially a primitive piano played with a keyboard where strings are plucked rather than struck (hence the higher pitch). Harpsichord has rarely been used outside the Baroque period. The harpsichord here lends itself well to the mechanical gears of the clocktower, keeping time as well as remaining intricate like the spokes on a gear and the multitude of gears in the giant clock tower the level is played in (clocktowers have since become a staple for the series, requiring complex jumping maneuvers). Couple this with the low bass (could be used to represent a cello, harpsichord, or even an organ) and the track has a distinct feel of danger. In fact, the track also lends itself well to the organ, as demonstrated in the Castlevania Concert (sample in the trailer).
Of course, just because the piece was originally composed as a Baroque work does not mean that is how it has to be arranged. Dwelling of Duels demonstrated this with their special competition in 2004, which resulted in such compositions as the Latin “La Hora es Tarde” by Housethegrate. “Clockwork” has made appearances in Circle of the Moon‘s clockwork stage as well as in Castlevania Judgment, both of which are excellent arranges.
Castlevania III was composed by Yoshinori Sasaki (Illusion of Gaia, Ys VI), Jun Funahashi (Lethal Enforcers, Lost in Blue, Ys VI), and Yukie Morimoto (Gradius II and III, Ganbare Goemon series). Though no specific composer is listed in the soundtrack, Mr. Funahashi is credited with Special Thanks in the PC rerelease, which could place him as a consultant.
“Woodcarving Partita” from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is another fine example of Baroque. An accomplished pianist, composer Michiru Yamane has played this piece live at two separate concerts. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge for the Game Boy has another excellent selection of Baroque works, including Bach’s own “Chromatic Fantasy”. Clearly, the Castlevania series owes a lot of debt and inspiration to the composers of this period.