August 2020 – Instrumentation

Welcome to Ausgust’s diary entry. Plenty of new music has been uploaded to the website this month that won’t be covered here as it would make this entry way too long, so you can check for yourself the themes for Arya Stark and Bran Stark over at House Stark’s page; Stannis Baratheon’s theme which has been added to House Baratheon’s page; and the newest addition to the Westerosi Houses roster: House Tyrell, with the addition of Loras Tyrell’s theme.

What is instrumentation?

The main topic to cover in this month’s entry is that of instrumentation, which is the use of instruments and their combinations in a piece of music. So when a composer writes a piece of music they need to make decisions not only on what notes to use, their rhythm, harmonies, loudness, range, etc. but also which instrument will be playing the music. Hence, instrumentation (also referred to as orchestration) plays a crucial role in any piece of music, as the melody played on a flute will sound radically different compared to when played on a tuba.

Just as Westeros is made of kingdoms ruled by houses, the orchestra is made of sections ruled by families of instruments. There are 5 main sections in the orchestra: Strings, Woodwind, Brass, Keyboard, and Percussion. So for example, in the Woodwind section there is the family of the flutes, the family of the oboes, the family of the clarinets, and the family of the bassoons.

House Flute

House Oboe

House Clarinet

House Bassoon

One family of instruments wouldn’t be a family if there was only one member, so using House Flute as an example we can see their members here from top to bottom: the Piccolo Flute, the Concert Flute, the Alto flute, and the Bass Flute. (To keep it simple we will exclude other members of the flute family that are rarely heard, like the Soprano Flute, the Treble Flute, the Flûte d’amour, and the Contrabass Flute, among others)

Of course not everything falls neatly into a category, and just as in Westeros there are disputes over what territory belongs to what House, there are disputes over to what family and section and instrument belongs, but here we will keep as simple as possible.

Instrumentation in Westeros

After that introduction to the instruments of the orchestra we can focus our attention to how all of this applies to Westeros. Each kingdom in Westeros has not only a distinct culture and traditions, but also geography, climate, food, religion, and of course musical instruments. There are families of instruments strongly associate with some regions as we can see in the map below:

  • In The North, the Bassoon, with its low, deep earthy sound embodies the harshness of its climate.
  • In The Riverlands, the Clarinet’s reedy and mellow tone reflects the flowing of its rivers.
  • In The Vale, the Flute lightness and agility allows it to teach as high as high as the Mountains themselves.
  • The Crownlands and The Stormlands have, since the Targaryen Conquest of Westeros, relied on the Trombone to display the powerful and stately qualities of their Houses.
  • In The Westerlands, the brightness and intensity of the Trumpet shines as much as the gold from its mines.
  • In The Reach, the Horn has a warm and mellow sound that bathes the landscape.
  • In Dorne, the Oboe’s intense and piercing sound can become beautiful as an oasis in the desert.
  • In the Iron Islands, the violin’s open and calm sound can turn rough and menacing just as the sea itself.

This doesn’t mean that those are the only instruments used in those regions, far from it, but a connection can be made between the deep and woody sound of the bassoon that fits The North better than it fits The Westerlands, for example. This means that characters from a region will be distinguishable from others based not only on their leitmotifs, but also their instrumentation.

For example, members of House Tully tend to use instruments of the clarinet family as befits people from The Riverlands. A good example of this is Catelyn Tully, whose leitmotif is played by a Clarinet in B.

Fig. a – Catelyn Tully

As her children Robb, Sansa, Bran, and Rickon take after Tully look, their leitmotifs are also played by instruments of the clarinet family.

Fig. b – Robb Stark
Fig. c – Sansa Stark
Fig. d – Bran Stark

Arya Stark, taking after her father’s Stark look should have a bassoon playing her leitmotif, but instead it is an oboe who plays her theme. This is because Arya is still too young to fully embrace the deep and dark sound of the bassoon, and since the oboe and bassoon families are both double-reed instruments which share many qualities of their sound, the oboe will play her leitmotif for the time being. Another reason is that Arya, looking up to Princess Nymeria of Dorne, can be easily associated with the Oboe than any other instrument.

Fig. e – Arya Stark

As characters go through their arcs in their story so will the instruments that play their leitmotifs change. This brings another layer of difficulty when composing, but at the same time adds a layer of depth to the music with the goal of keep helping the listener to better understand and enjoy the music.

I hope this introduction to instrumentation was useful! See you in next month’s entry!

Maester Ludwig

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