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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Video Game Theme Songs Get Symphony Makeover

Music for video games has come a long way since Koji Kondo composed the original Super Mario Bros. theme back in the 1980s.

Today, the scores are lush, often recorded by a full orchestra, and some say they rival film scores and even modern classical music.

And now that music is getting a new treatment: The London Philharmonic Orchestra has produced a 21-track album of “The Greatest Video Game Music,” including themes from “Angry Birds,” “Zelda,” “Call of Duty” and “World of Warcraft.”

Boston Globe classical music critic Jeremy Eichler told Here & Now that while symphonies may be able to attract a younger audience by playing music from video games, they may not be able to retain the new listeners.

“Will these young gamers ever come back of their own volition, until another video game night comes along, or another popular artist they follow comes to front with the orchestra? A lot depends on what you play alongside the music they came for,” he said.

“They needed music with the emotional responsiveness of film scores, music that was denser and heavier, with more epic contours.”
– Jeremy Eichler, Boston Globe critic

Eichler also says that the elaborate music in video games reflects a broader shift as designers seek to create a total immersion experience.

“In Super Mario brothers, your character just ran around Mushroom Kingdom, bouncing, collecting coins, trying to rescue princess Toadstool,” he said.

“Now the stakes are much higher. In these first-person shooter games, you literally become the character, looking out through his or her eyes… As these games aspired to become these immersing worlds, they of course needed more from their music. They needed music with the emotional responsiveness of film scores, music that was denser and heavier, with more epic contours,” Eichler said.


  • Jeremy Eichler, Boston Globe classical critic

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  • 25y.o.

    I love symphony in any form

  • jkeegan

    If you’re going to cover a topic, get guests that are relevant to that topic. I could have enjoyed this piece but the “guest” was pompous and annoying.

  • Sammyflow

    As a professional musician, I was very disappointed in this story.  Perhaps the loss of listenership to “classical” music- a term widely misused incidentally- is due to the stuffy and pompous idealism clearly on display in this story by all parties.  The commandeering of orchestral and chamber musics by academia has done nothing except save itself from the terrors of change.  These same idealists look down their noses at  other musical forms and by association, those who listen to and enjoy them.  I know plenty about music history and “advanced” music theory and if you claim that the video game music in the end of this story was a rip off from the modern symphony, then there is restitution to be made by many brilliant musicians to many brilliant musicians.  I have as much respect for Beethoven as Duke Ellington, Perelman for Coltrane and rondos for ragtime.  Rock, funk, jazz, soul, r&b, hip-hop, old country, and their progenitor- blues, are responsible for so much artistic euphoria, it would be shameful to miss, not shameful to appreciate.  The Rite of Spring is thrilling, but so is Led Zepplin.

    It has become clear that video games are here to stay.  Like it or not.  If Stravinsky and Scorses can be geniuses in their own time, why not video game makers?  The world isn’t changing, it IS change.  I prefer to grab hold and ride.

    Whatever a person’s reasons are for idealistic judgementalism, the problem is generally with the judge and not the accused. My problem is frustration in being looked at strangely when I bring up the “wrong” music to the “wrong” people.  Don’t let ANYONE tell you that the jury has reached a verdict.  It’s still out- WAY out.

  • David Tooley

    Robin Young’s constant, giggling dismissiveness is annoying.

  • John C. Lieurance, MS

    I love hearing the original Mario Bros music. It brought back great memories. Thank you for the link to the Album. I’ve told my kids that its on my Christmas list :)

  • joe

    I did not enjoy the mocking tone of this story.  Further research would have uncovered orchestral performances of Nintendo music for Japanese audiences has existed for years – I’ve personally enjoyed listening to the Tokyo Philharmonic’s performances of selections from Super Smash Bros.  These covers have merit in their original and orchestral form.  This story missed an opportunity to cover the evolution of video game music from 8-bit games up to commissioning movie score composers for today’s games.  

  • Paul

    I disagree that the limited range of  early video game music is problematic. Rather the limited range of the technology at the time matched the limited range (in color and shape) of the image of the game.  The sound of those games was a sound of an  entirely new world. The sound of games today is the sound of the multiplex blockbuster movie. Neither is wrong they are just specific for their era.  Also the nostalgic effect of hearing  the classic arcade sound cannot be reproduced  with an orchestral arrangement. Which again is not wrong just different.  The extremely limited range of early video game music can be compared to the limited range of early monophonic music, plain song, chants  and such. With limitations unique things can be done.   Also the much smaller sound heard in the Mario Bros theme and others  made one feel as if one was in the small and otherworldly game screen and world.  Not to mention that it is so much cuter.  Satie, by the way would have made interesting video game  music.   He understood the genius of brevity.

  • http://twitter.com/savetherobot Chris Dahlen

    I don’t think this is any more ridiculous than listening to a recording of movie soundtracks. 

  • J-go

    Were the conductors of Video Games Live unavailable?

  • Mascott

    I’m glad that others picked up on the condescending tone conveyed in this piece. I am an avid listener to, and performer of classical music, as well as a great enjoyer of video games, and I know many friends like me.
    “while symphonies may be able to attract a younger audience by playing music from video games, they may not be able to retain the new listeners”…because young people that play video games can’t be interested in ‘real’ music, can they! 

    And by the way, I am thoroughly enjoying the philharmonic orchestra’s album- it’s very refreshing and uplifting.

  • Robin Young

    okay okay okay I hear you!!

    So sorry that the tone came off as dismissive, not our feeling at all (why would we do the piece?!)

    And I do think Jeremy made some great points; I would love to hear the Boston Pops do an evening of  video game soundtrack covers, followed by classical composers. 

    For what it’s worth! 
    Al best

  • Daniel Watson

     Were the conductors of Video Games Live unavailable? I really need it. Epic movie music

  • Gardengeek

    When I was a child I didn’t realize what great music I was hearing as I watched Warner Brothers cartoons — it was a stealth intro to classical. I would like my gamer kids to hear good music as they play, and I think video game tracks are valid venue for serious composers.

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