April 2020 – It’s all about the leitmotifs

Welcome to April’s update. This month is dedicated to leitmotifs of great houses of Westeros. After last month’s quiz I received some feedback asking how on Earth was anyone suppose to guess what each track referred to what character based on a brief and cryptic title. Yes, I must admit that I underestimated how new somebody listens to the music for the first time. When you spend so many hours working on something you lose perspective, the same way a comedian usually doesn’t find their own jokes funny. So, to try and remedy this I have moved leitmotifs up to the top of my priorities to lay the groundwork necessary to understand the gist of the music. This month I have updated three Houses pages: House Stark, House Baratheon, and House Martell with tracks and an excerpt of notation to highlight the leitmotifs that make up the theme.

Let’s take the Baratheon leitmotif as an example. This two-note theme represents House Baratheon. It is comprised of a short note, usually on the upbeat, followed by a longer note a perfect fourth up, usually on the downbeat. Now, this doesn’t mean that every time two notes a perfect fourth apart show up it is a reference to House Baratheon; there are other aspects that need to be taken into consideration like the instrument used, the tempo, and the prominence of the notes in the overall melody. Let’s compare Robert’s and Renly’s theme to see how the leitmotif plays a role in both identifying the characters and how we can tell them apart.

Robert Baratheon

Renly Baratheon

The most striking difference is that Robert’s theme is in F minor while Renly’s is in F Major. Robert’s theme is was made for a warrior while Renly’s theme is for basking in clamor. Both themes use a very simple form of a-a’-b. This means there are three segments in the melody: a first segment is established followed by a repetition itself with some small changes followed by a new segment that brings the theme to its conclusion. On the surface both themes are the same but digging in deeper we can see (and hear) that Roberts a’ section acts as a bridge toward the b section, going up and increasing the tension, while Renly’s a’ section is exactly the same as it’s a section except for two repeated notes. The Baratheon leitmotif is repeated six times in Robert’s theme, always moving up in pitch until it reaches its climax at the very end of section a’. This is because Robert paid his dues and reached his zenith only after toiling through his journey, hammer in hand at the battle of the Trident. On the other hand, the Baratheon leitmotif appears only 4 times in Renly’s theme and he never reaches the high C note as Robert does, far from it: Renly tries to reach the high C too soon but falls short, and instead of trying to develop the section the material is simply repeated almost without changes in an attempt to mimic his older brother’s greatness. There are other small aspects that play an even more subconscious role, like how Robert’s theme has a note on almost every beat of the theme (the only exceptions being the long-held notes at the end of section a and section b); this relentless beat reminds us of Robert’s hammer, propelling the music forward constantly. Renly has no such relentless beat as he is force to fill in the gaps with repeated notes in an uneven mix of short and long notes more proper of a pompous cavalcade than a battle.

I’m not trying to put Renly down here, only to show the kind of minute details that needs conscious and repeated listening in order to be revealed to the listener. After all, if the books get better with every reread as the once overlooked hidden details are revealed I feel the music attempt to do the same.

I leave it to you to listen and compare the themes of Eddard and Robb in the House Stark page, and try to find the similarities and differences. Of course, the picture will still be an incomplete one, since the Tully leitmotif hasn’t been revealed yet (although Catelyn’s theme was one of the mystery tracks in the quiz last month).

Over on House Martell’s page Elia’s and Oberyn’s theme are by far the most difficult to compare to each other. Elia’s theme has existed for a very long time (I wrote it in 2016) and I wrote Oberyn’s this year. They don’t share the same scale, nor the same key, the leitmotif is slightly different in both themes, and there are other hidden leitmotifs in their themes that play a bigger role that I don’t want to reveal for now. And yet they both are recognizable as members of House Martell thanks to the sumptuous 4 note leitmotif.

If you have any more comments please let me know down below, on reddit, or sending me a crow. Next month I will bring more leitmotifs from the Houses of Westeros and a song from the Reach.

Maester Ludwig

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