Note: You can/should read along while listening to the track, the actual analysis starts at "Now to my own theme"
This blog post will be about my Final Fantasy XV Fan theme 'Lux in Obscuro'. Final Fantasy has always had a special place in my heart, it took me quite a while to figure out how much it actually affected me and my musical language. The first time I actually realized how much of it translated into my own music was when I first heard an orchestra play my music. I felt the same thing I feel when I listen to Final Fantasy orchestral recordings. It is, and will be for a long time, a dream for me to actually work on a Final Fantasy on my own and write music for it.
Before we delve into the nitty gritty of my own theme we have to understand what Final Fantasy music makes so appealing and easy to connect to. The most important thing in FFs music is its simplicity. The music doesn’t try to be overly complex, but instead tries to use very simple ideas that are then orchestrated effectively. You can compare it to a children’s song, most of them are really simple but very memorable for this specific reason. The same applies to Final Fantasy music, it is very easy to remember since the melodies aren’t complex(from both a harmonical and rhythmical point of view), it allows us as listeners to get an easier grasp of them since our brain has'nt much to digest while listening.
Another important part is the utilization of piano. In many of the main themes a piano will play solely before the rest of the orchestra joins in. One reason for that is that it's way easier to showcase a melody in a soloistic context. If you start with the full orchestral force our brain might be overwhelmed by what is happening and will lose touch with the melody. That’s one of the reasons why the menu music often starts with just Piano, it evokes a feeling of familiarity.
I don’t want to talk too much about musical terms (such as harmonic or rhythmic ideas) but another reason for FF’s great music is its actual harmonic language. The music utilizes simple chords such as ordinary minor or major chords but also the use of chords that feature a seventh or even further than that. Eventhough the difference between a simple minor/major chord and a seventh chord is just a single note, the overall sound and feeling of the chord will change dramatically. These ‘more advanced’ chords allow the music to have more ‘room’ since these additional notes make the sound more ‘spacey’. For someone not familiar with these sounds, below you can listen to an example of how a seventh can change the sound of a single chord.
As an example listen to the audio file below. First you will hear a simple major chord(C), right after
you hear the same chord but with a major seventh added(Cmaj7). You can clearly hear how much aditional space/room is gained just by adding one note to the chord.
Now to my own theme:
At first I wanted to keep the tradition of opening with solo Piano, it hints at the main theme and also sets a general mood for the overall piece. The actual main theme is very simple, it’s basically just a 3 chord structure and a simple melody consisting mostly out of halves and quarters. Something like this could potentially get boring quite fast, especially if you dont know how to work with the simplicity. You have to utilize the pauses between the notes effectively. One good way is to add movement in the harmonic section. This will hide the fact that the melody is just sitting on a single note for 3 beats, our brains will immediatly focus towards the next "movement" in the cue, which would be the harmony section.
The theme on the right we will call Theme A.
As you can see its dead simple, from many points of view, rhythmically, harmonically and our tempo is also quite low with just 80 beats per minute.
After opening with Piano we come to a swell of strings. The first Violins, Oboe and Flute lead the Theme A melody while all the other strings are the harmonic backbone of the section, the Piano supports the harmonic section subtly to make it a little bit fuller and also to give every chord more ‘attack’(as in adding more initial power to the first beat of our rhythm).
The strings (excluding Violins 1/Melody) are constantly in movement to make up for the fact that our harmonic and melodic idea is so
simple. Having many long notes in a melody leaves room for other instruments to move without having the risk of having one movement fight for the attention that should fully be spend towards the
main theme (Our melody Theme A). You can still have both(melody and harmony) moving at the same time but we should only do that if we have established our melody
We hear two repetitions of the Theme A which then transition smoothly into our Theme B which is a slight variation of our Theme A.
On the right is Theme B.
As you can see it shares some similarities in the rhythmical flow that Theme A has, Theme B is also a more minor(as in sounding a bit more 'dramatic') sounding variation of A. In terms of instrumentation we stay fairly similar to our A Theme, just strings and some woodwinds. This time the piano also plays the melody and supports with some harmonic movement in the lower register. We intentionally don’t want to use brass already, this will allow us to have a more powerful ending when all the brass joins in.
Right after our first B section is over we transition into another variation of Theme A solely played by piano. This time it’s played more energetic than in the beginning, with the difference that we don’t end on ‘C major 6’ but rather on a ‘A sus4’ which we then resolve into a ‘A' chord. This feels especially powerful in this context since the strings join in at the exact same chord. With our arrival on the ‘A major’ we transition into a small bridge that will then lead us to our final variation of Theme B. Our bridge isn’t really a new melodic idea but rather a buffer we use between Theme A and B, otherwise we would only hear the themes repeating themselves all the time. The bridge is there to offer some contextual balance to the overall piece.
After our bridge we come to our big finale where we finally utilize our brass section. With some accented notes we introduce French Horns, Trombones and Trumpets to then later build the harmonic backbone for the melody, while clarinets and celli/violas play a movement to, again, counter the static melody (that is Theme B).
The swell we hear right after our bridge is very effective since we saved the full orchestral range up to the end of the piece, it allows an evolving climax throughout the whole piece. The percussion will only help us to make accents more powerful and does not serve as a rhythmic support. In general we use percussion sparingly in the whole piece. (the less we use it the more effective it will become when we use it)
After our climax and the playthrough of Theme B is done we have to finish the piece. We do this by playing our Theme B again but this time with a small twist. Instead of staying in one octave we move down in octaves as the melody evolves. In notes that looks like you can see on the right. The top version is how we usually played the theme, below is how the melody is played in the end. We share the exact same notes but instead work us downwards one octave at a time to end on our final chord, which is D minor.
Utilizing a downwards movement is always a good way to end a piece, it feels natural to our brains that if something goes down it will come to an end or a new section.
My aim with this small analysis is to share some of the thoughts I have during the creation process. It is a priority to me to make it understandable for even someone not fully familiar with composition or music in general. Even if you cant read notes, you should still be able to understand the written down melodies, just listen to the music and pay attention to where the notes are placed in the stave, higher means higher, lower means lower - its that simple.
Thats it for now, im calling it a wrap, I hope you enjoyed the small read. If you have any open questions feel free to contact me and I'll try to get back to you as fast as possible.
Cheers : )