Final Symphony - A (7-Year-Old) Approach on Video Game Concerts

February 16, 2021, 10:30 PM · I spent tonight listening to music from the Final Symphony concerts, two sets of music that were presented as symphonic arrangements of music from the Final Fantasy games. The first event from 2014, which is the only one to have an album release (as of now), featured a symphonic poem from Final Fantasy VI, "Born with the Gift of Magic"; a Piano Concerto from Final Fantasy X (which is a piece of music I have long obsessed with on its own!); and from Final Fantasy VII, a Symphony in Three Movements. I downloaded the program notes for the 12 September 2015 Final Symphony II concert at the Barbican Centre in London (with the London Symphony Orchestra). It contains even more arrangements: from Final Fantasy XIII, a score called "Utopia in the Sky"; from Final Fantasy IX, another Piano Concerto, "For the People of Gaia"; from Final Fantasy VIII, another fantastic tone poem called "Mono no aware"; and finally, from Final Fantasy V, an arrangement called "Library of Ancients."

Each of these pieces of music is roughly 20 minutes long, and that's partly what makes them unique from other video game concerts. Typically, the orchestra will play an arrangement of a single track, or else weave several tracks into a medley of sorts, where there are clear divides within the tracks. For the Final Symphony concerts, the arrangers have looked through the source material and picked out character themes or ideas they wanted to focus on, and cleverly interweave them into a format akin to a typical Piano Concerto, or tone-poem. For example, "Born with the Gift of Magic" was stated by Roger Wanabo to be a study in FFVI's main character, Terra Branford. It explores some of the other characters like the evil villain Kefka and the Empire, and the way Kefka's clownish theme accelerandos and rises up a half-step helps characterize his insanity from the game. "For the People of Gaia" integrates FFIX's character themes into four movements (also by Wanamo): Vivi's Theme as a Prokofiev-esque Scherzo he imagined playing the first five minutes of the game in the streets of Alexandria; followed by a beautiful slow movement with solo violin and cello counterpoint with the piano for Princess Garnet. Fragments of the hero's melodies return as motivic reminders during the finale, for music with the final boss of the game. Final Fantasy X's Piano Concerto had a wonderful attaca from the second movement to the third, with a Japanese percussive flair of crotales leading into that game's finale; and Mono no aware, a Japanese phrase for the awareness of impermanence, used different presentations of the game's main theme with "Eyes on Me" and "Waltz for the Moon" to explore a single theme further.

It's interesting listening to this music from two mindsets. When I first discovered it, I hadn't really known much about the games at all. I'm currently playing through Final Fantasy IX with my friends, and have watched gameplay of FFX and FFVI online. I've tried some of the other ones but I'm really in this fantasy mood right now. Some of the piano and solo violin writing throughout these pieces is inspiring me for a Renaissance-esque song I am working on for one of my classes, and hope to spend time with on my day off school tomorrow. And watching clips of the orchestra, seeing some of the violin parts in their shots, and listening to these arrangements in full, gets me excited for a few of my orchestration projects I'm planning. (One of these is an orchestration of a 2017 piano duet I wrote for a class at Augustana, similarly to Ravel orchestrating a work he wrote for piano - like his Mother Goose Suite!) In terms of the concerts themselves, while I have been able to get more out of knowing the story and how the character themes I know so well from the games are used to tell the tale, they are really nice pieces to listen to on their own as well. I really hope this format of presenting video game music is used more often, rather than simply presenting the tracks as is in the games. They help bring more life especially to the '90s games here that were more limited, and introduce a new level of intricacy that can help bring younger audiences to the wider world of orchestral music as a whole.

Links:
Final Symphony (website)
Final Symphony II (website)

Born with the Gift of Magic
Mono no Aware

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