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Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – “The Final Toccata” (Michiru Yamane)

November 9, 2010

Often when you look at a Castlevania soundtrack (or even the title), you will think, “What does this musical name mean? I mean, I’ve heard it but…” Of course, to say that a track such as “Sarabande of Healing” and say, “Well, this must be a sarabande!” would be right on the money, but it wouldn’t tell you much about what makes a sarabande a sarabande. That’s one of the ideas here – to identify what a toccata is using an example of a toccata from a game as well as a classic toccata.

We’ll begin with the classic: Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” played here, which is one of the most famous organ pieces out there and one of the best examples of the form. The video was produced using the Music Animation Machine and so this uses (rather high-quality) MIDI. If this bar graph visualization looks like something off the Atari, this works quite well: “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” has been used in numerous game music soundtracks, primarily early ones, but also newer ones such as Final Fantasy VI (1994) and as lately as Deathsmiles (2008).

“Toccata and Fugue in D minor” is a combination of toccata and fugue – a common occurrence in toccata actually. The first three minutes compose the toccata, which may be defined as a virtuostic piece usually played on a keyboard instrument or a plucked instrument. Basically, it is a piece that taxes the skills of the musician as well as demonstrates that skill – that virtuosity. Thus, a toccata is characterized by the rapid playing of notes, often multiple hands on the same instrument if it is a keyboard, as well as jumps between notes. These are all well-visualized in the bar graphs of the video, in which you can clearly see the color-coded trains of each string – it gives a whole new way to look at music!

Also note that while organ music is today often equated with “evil genius/nobleman” the music was originally played in cathedrals (accentuated by the building’s acoustic qualities!) and so has an element of soothing and meditation that now feels a little alien to us (hence its use in Castlevania and boss levels).

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night‘s “The Final Toccata” bucks many of the characteristics of the classic toccata, using instead of just the organ, a choral synth as well as strings and percussion. Such a wide variety of instrumentation would not have been imaginable in Bach’s day, but seems oddly fitting, justifying that a form is characteristic more of its structure rather than what instruments it uses. Unlike Bach’s toccata, Yamane-san’s also does not use a lot of theme and variation, focused mainly on subtle progression from one section to the next, gradually building for the finale.

In the opening, we can see the rapid and repeated progression of notes characteristic of the toccata, only here enhanced by male and female vocal synths – instruments that are reminiscent of the organ. A minute into the song, bongoes are subtly added for percussion and a kind of bubbling emotion. At 2:30, the track changes its progression to focus more on strings with the vocal and organ used for punctuation. The upward rushes of the strings give impressions of power as well as more dynamic movement. At 3:25, the piece switches over again to organs repeating the first section of the toccata, but this time with fully expressed drums. At 4:15, Yamane-san returns again to the strings before looping back at 5:00, making it one of the longest and most-sustained tracks in a videogame – which is good because this track ends up playing throughout the majority of the Inverted Castle (unfortunately, there aren’t many other tracks for this half of the game).

Of course, Castlevania has many other toccatas (incidentally, “Clockwork” serves as another good example), but don’t get the impression there aren’t other games that use this. “The Castle” from Final Fantasy VIII is another good example, though it has a wider variety of instrumentation (organ and harpsichord!) and is less focused on virtuosity. Note the references to Bach. Also, what sounds like a flute in the introduction is actually still the pipe organ, played with very high notes!

One comment

  1. Excellent article. I always forget this, but one of the reasons I love video game music so much is because so much of it is influenced by great classical music. Video games are now the arena of composers to reach the most people.

    One day someone really needs to get a good list and compare them to games and game composers. Maybe someone already has, and maybe I need to look harder, and maybe someone can point me the right direction!



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