April 2021 – Writing is Rewriting (Part 2)

Welcome to this month’s diary entry. I had planned to post this entry last Saturday but life got in the way somehow, and I even had to cut some material that was going to make it into this month’s diary. Still, there is some interesting I want to show you this month and it has to do with the process of rewriting material, so let’s get to it!

3rd Time’s The Charm

I have mentioned in past diaries that I try to avoid having to rewrite material I have uploaded as much as possible, simply because the cost of opening that door leads to infinitely readjusting old material, and as the project advances it just becomes unsustainable. And yet sometimes it is precisely what the doctor ordered. A good case is that of Renly’s leitmotif, which is now in it’s third iteration.

Renly’s original leitmotif had some things I liked a lot and somethings I was so thrilled about, but overall, I enjoyed the leitmotif in the context of the three Baratheon brothers. Renly’s main divergence from the Robert and Stannis was the fact that it was in A major instead of a minor, and there are some good reasons why I wanted it that way. The main reason is that it is much easier to create something welcoming and “shinny” in major than in minor. With Robert a seasoned warrior and Stannis a expert grinder of teeth, Renly is but a charming and dazzling young man, so the original theme was set in A major (fig. a).

Fig. a – Renly’s original leitmotif in A Major

But as it happens sometimes I made a mistake by not double checking the assumptions I had when I wrote the leitmotif. Somewhere in my mind it was obvious that all three Baratheon brothers are knights, when in fact, Renly is not a knight. This means that the knighthood motif (fig. b), represented by a triplet was very misplaced in the motif and needed to go.

Fig. b – Knighthood

I caught this mistake early this year and reworked the leitmotif to do away with the triplet while keeping as much as possible. The end result was a theme that kept the flashiness of Renly’s original theme at the expense of not sounding as close to Robert’s leitmotif (fig. c), which is something that bothered me a little, since Renly is supposed to look a lot like a young Robert Baratheon.

Fig. c – Renly’s modified leitmotif minus the knighthood leitmotif

But it wasn’t until I recently started to work on the Baratheon bastards seriously that I couldn’t justify anymore having Renly’s leitmotif in A Major and not a minor. A pivotal moment of “A Game of Thrones” comes with the reveal of the true fatherhood of Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen, whose leitmotifs are all in E Major. The dichotomy of the minor scale representing black hair and the major scale representing blonde hair is something I had in my mind for the longest time, but Renly’s A Major leitmotif kept throwing the whole idea off the rails. Eventually I bit the bullet and reworked Renly’s leitmotif in a minor, since consistency of Baratheon = a minor is more meaningful to me than Renly’s charming nature = A Major.

This third (and hopefully, final) version of Renly’s leitmotif (fig. d) relies more on orchestration to convey his dazzling but shallow persona, but it does for a more consistent and coherent set of leitmotifs, which takes precedence over pretty much anything else.

Fig. d – Renly’s final leitmotif now in a minor

Reweaving A Tapestry

So, why the fuzz over a simple rewrite?  Because when weaving a tapestry with leitmotif it is hard to replace one single thread without having to do a major rework of the whole thing. Renly’s leitmotif connects to other leitmotifs, most important of all Loras’ leitmotif, which is in C Major, and the amount of acrobatics I had worked on to fit them together meant that now I had to throw most of it away. This is a theme I had never finished, as every time I sat down to work on it new ideas came and went, but overall many hours had gone into tuning everything so that it came off nicely.

I want to clarify what this means in case you aren’t very familiar with music theory. Basically, all you need to know is that A Major is not harmonically close to C Major even though they can be connected using some cool tricks composers have used for centuries like pivot notes and secondary dominants. This use of the distant keys of A Major and C Major effect was something I was happy to have as to me it reflected Renly’s and Loras’ difficulties in sharing their love while keeping it a secret: their secret love was a fight that paid off for them in spite of its inherit challenges they faced. But now all of this was out the window and as such I needed to rework their love theme “The Rose Knight and the Stag” from the ground up. The good news is that a minor and C Major are basically the closest to tonalities could ever be, so I changed gears and reworked the idea from struggle to secrecy, which also works very well in context.

The new goal was to create a love theme from the point of view of Loras that hinted at a deep love for someone without it being too on the nose. Taking advantage of the fact that a minor and C Major share the exact same pitches, slipping in and out Loras’ leitmotif to insert a modified version of Renly’s leitmotif was the way to go. It took almost time to rework their love theme and have it finished in almost a personal record for myself; so at least I’m happy about that.

As Loras is the character from whom we see their relation, “The Rose Knight and the Stag” (fig. e) begins with Loras’ leitmotif (light blue notes) only to hear a version of Renly’s leitmotif (dark blue notes) in a rhythm that completely obscures its melody, but is still recognizable upon close listening.

I’m not alone in thinking that Loras has one of the most memorable moments in the whole series when he recalls Renly in A Storm of Swords – Tyrion II:

“When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.”

Loras Tyrell
Fig. e -The Rose Knight and the Stag

I hope you enjoyed this month’s entry! See you soon!

Maester Ludwig

March 2021 – The Ironborn

Welcome to the Diary entry for March 2021! The time has finally come for House Greyjoy to join the roster of noble Westerosi houses and for the Ironborn to be included as one of the musical cultures of Westeros!

What is dead may never die

House Greyjoy shouldn’t be too difficult to write music for. After all, it is not larger than most other houses and all their members can be seen as stereotypical raiding Vikings, so writing some pirate-like music should do the trick, right? The reality is that House Greyjoy is proving to be more difficult than most other houses. One reason for that could be that there are four Greyjoy POV characters thus making them and the Lannisters contend for the title of second largest house by number of POVs.

And let me tell you that POV characters are way more difficult to write music for than non POV characters, as knowing exactly the train of thought of a character means having to write both music that is coherent from both the outside and inside perspective one has as a reader. I love writing music for characters like Loras or Oberyn since whatever might happen inside their heads is unknown to us, thus making it far easier to simply write music that matches our outside perception of them (this being that both are awesome). However, writing music that matches whatever our outside perception of Theon is with his internal monologue is, at least for me, a daunting task. And therein lies the problem. Theon’s character arc is so extreme that in order to write the most fitting music to it I need to plan in detail his entire leitmotif development before I can even consider working on other Greyjoy characters. And of course, this is a huge drawback since I have had leitmotif ideas for Balon, Victarion and Euron for years but I have never wanted to commit to any of them for fear that I would need to change them eventually.

As of late I have been feeling more confident about my ideas regarding the Greyjoys, with some ideas being finally cemented while others have been discarded wholesale. And perhaps I’m finally feeling more confident about Theon’s leitmotif and its development than ever before, because today I decided to upload the Ironborn music page I had written a year ago and a leitmotif for Balon Greyjoy I had come up almost two years ago. Hopefully I get to fill out the Greyjoy family tree in a timely manner, although I suspect Theon will still be the last one to finally take shape. In the meantime, I leave you with the Balon Greyjoy, the King Kraken.

Balon Greyjoy – The King Kraken

That’s all for this month. See you again in April!

Maester Ludwig

February 2021 – 1st Anniversary

Welcome to the Diary entry for February 2021 when Music of Ice and Fire celebrates its first anniversary, or the closest thing to an anniversary, since there won’t be another February 29th until 2024. The website, as it stands today contains 1 hour of music split into 39 tracks, all available in the Library. 18 main characters have had their leitmotifs uploaded and with exception of House Greyjoy and House Arryn the major houses of Westeros have had their pages published. I wish I could have uploaded more content, but all in all I am pleased with the progress but first and foremost I’m very pleased that the website is receiving regular visits.

Promise me

So, what can we expect from 2021? I wish I had obsidian glass to look past the here and now to tell but here is where I make some promises about what is to come.

First, as this is a website dedicate to music in the Song of Ice and Fire universe, I want to upload way more music. My goal for this second year is to have at least 3 hours of music before the website’s next anniversary, that is, to double the output of what I have doing so far. This is nothing if not ambitious but that’s the main goal.

Second, the website needs some visuals to accompany the music, so uploading illustrations to go along with the tracks is the second goal. As I mentioned last month, I have bought a tablet to get started with digital illustration and I am mostly positive about the results even if I need more time to get into the process; so, expect something in the upcoming months.

But how on Earth can I double the output of music and learn how to create illustrations at the same time? That’s what I’d like to know, but it certainly helps that I am taking a break between jobs. As this was a planned break and I have some savings in the bank my mind is at ease, so I want to use the extra time to give the website an extra push.

New Milestones

Today I am uploading some music that has taken me longer than I am willing to admit. Infanticide aside, Jaime Lannister is probably my favorite character, and has been probably the most difficult characters to write music for so far. The list of other grey characters that are difficult to write for also includes Theon Greyjoy and Daenerys Targaryen, which is why their leitmotifs are still under wraps. However, with Jaime I think the basic leitmotif is close enough to what I want it to be that I can upload it without second guessing myself. Another reason why Jaime’s leitmotif was so hard is that his leitmotif needed to be a perfect match to Cersei’s. Cersei might be a less grey and darker character than Jaime, but still full of nuances and character arc, so that wasn’t also easy. The need to balance the outer beauty of Cersei with her inner cruelty is a real challenge.

And so, The Twin Lions is a track that represents the births of Cersei and Jaime by combining the first notes of Cersei’s leitmotif (lower voice) with Jaime’s leitmotifs (upper voice) to create the leitmotif of life.

Fig. a – The Twin Lions

Whenever I have played this music to anybody the reaction has always been “Why would you have nice beautiful music for such horrible people?!” My answer is that these are not horrible people, or at least not yet: these are babies full of potential and their ending, while possibly dark, is unknown. My take on this music is that, while beautiful at first (or so I hope) it shows that Jaime’s leitmotif has the potential to be a heroic figure but Cersei’s own leitmotif eventually corrupts it.

Left to his own devices Jaime’s The White Lion leitmotif depicts a knight in all its splendor, or to quote Jon:

Ser Jaime Lannister was twin to Queen Cersei; tall and golden, with flashing green eyes and a smile that cut like a knife. He wore crimson silk, high black boots, a black satin cloak. On the breast of his tunic, the lion of his House was embroidered in gold thread, roaring its defiance. They called him the Lion of Lannister to his face and whispered “Kingslayer” behind his back. Jon found it hard to look away from him. This is what a king should look like, he thought to himself as the man passed.

JON I, A Game of Thrones.
Fig. b – The White Lion

Cersei is beauty but those with keen eyes can see underneath the surface.

His lord father had come first, escorting the queen. She was as beautiful as men said. A jeweled tiara gleamed amidst her long golden hair, its emeralds a perfect match for the green of her eyes. His father helped her up the steps to the dais and led her to her seat, but the queen never so much as looked at him. Even at fourteen, Jon could see through her smile.

JON I, A Game of Thrones
Fig. c – The Lioness

That’s all for now. I hope to see you again next month!

Maester Ludwig

January 2021 – Deadlines

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Douglas Adams

Welcome to the first diary entry for 2021! As the quote above suggests, my deadline for this month flew right by me. I had planned for this month’s entry to be all about knighthood and the kingsguards, tying it all together with real examples of how it all works together with Jaime’s and Lora’s kingsguard leitmotifs. Alas, my usual laundry list of tech related problems has somehow gotten bigger, and with a few hours left to publish this month’s entry I have made the last minute decision to not rush it and save them for next month, making Knighthood and Kingsguard the only new pages on the website this month.

The good news is that next Monday I will be getting new extra RAM sticks for my PC that will (hopefully) limit the amount of crashes I get per hour when rendering tracks, and the much-awaited graphic tablet to start adding illustrations to the site. So, this means Music of Ice and Fire’s 1st anniversary will see a lot of new content next month! (unless I blow the dead line again, as seems to be in keeping with our beloved George). See you then!

Maester Ludwig

November 2020 – Not just characters

Welcome to November’s diary entry! For some time now, I have had the feeling that to write music for characters has been getting harder and harder. After a whole year working on House Stark, Targaryen, Baratheon, Lannister, Tully, Martell, Tyrell, Greyjoy… I am convinced I need to take a step back and let the creative juices replenish before I keep writing more characters. This means that for the coming months I’ll be focusing not on characters but on societies, places, objects and concepts. These are the five categories of leitmotifs I decided to work on when I started this project a few years ago and so far, I only have really devoted any time to the first one. So, in this entry I’ll talk a bit about what each category encompasses and what to expect.


Societies in ASOIAF are more than just people. Whether we call them organizationscommunities or institutions, these are bodies of people with a common denominator that brings them together in one way or another. Here we have religions, military organizations such as mercenary bands and knight orders, commercial entities like banks and traders, political councils, and a long etc.

As if having to create music for hundreds of characters wasn’t complex enough, then there is the question of bringing together those characters under one umbrella as members of a society. The Night’s Watch serves as a good example, with characters from all walks of life taking embracing one single identity, wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, and living under the same roof. The question of how to represent that unity for characters as different as Maester Aemon and Pyp, for example, is proving as difficult as it sounds. For the moment it is all coming together very slowly and one of the areas where I am most excited to work on since it is virgin territory to explore musically.


Concepts are the free for all category of abstract ideas that do not exist in the physical universe of ASOIAF: death and life, magic, love, honor, etc. These leitmotifs are usually the simplest as they need to fit almost any modification and arrangement, but also need to work together with other leitmotifs to add new meanings. Some of these leitmotifs date back to the very beginning of this project, like the life and death leitmotifs.

These four (diatonically) consecutive ascending notes embody the essence of life, and by extension joy, creation, goodness, etc. By opposition, the four consecutive descending notes represent death, sorrow, destruction, evil, etc.

But how can 4 consecutive notes constitute a motif, I hear you ask? The answer is that they really don’t unless you take context into account. To find 4 consecutive notes is not hard at all in almost any piece of music so this is yet another reason why it takes me so long to write music. With very few exceptions I always try to avoid using 4 consecutive notes unless I am referencing some of these aspects, although they are rarely in the foreground. Usually they are hidden in the accompaniment or as a harmonic progression but in some exceptional cases they can be part of the melody as in the case of Oberyn Martell’s leitmotif.

Life and Death in Oberyn Martell’s leitmotif

The four notes descending at an uneven pace tell us that this man is not to be trifled with: he is dangerous. The four quick ascending notes also tell us that this man is full of vitality and enjoys life to the fullest. But the theme is not over yet, and the life theme is repeated one more time with a little twist at the end, where the very last note is a bit higher than usual, giving the life motif a bitter sweet ending, perhaps significant to how this character approaches life. There are similar uses of the life/death motif in many other character’s leitmotifs such as Robert Baratheon, Stannis and Renly Baratheon; Loras Tyrell, Tyrion Lannister, etc. so I won’t cover them all here. Suffice it to say that after repeated listening the association becomes clear enough that hearing four consecutive notes, either ascending or descending, should give the listener pause and make them ask themselves what is the music trying to tell us.


Places are probably the easiest leitmotifs to work on in conceptual terms, as they represent a concrete physical location (at least on the page) and nothing else. At least in theory. In reality places are also associated with the events that took place there, their flora and fauna, and of course, the people who live there. The interweaving of leitmotifs of places into character leitmotifs makes it is hard to say where one begins and the other ends. Even some sketches and ideas that originally started as leitmotifs for places have ended up becoming characters who lived in those places. All in all, leitmotifs for places are usually much simpler than character leitmotifs precisely because they work via osmosis: the characters usually pick up these little quirks of the land in subtle ways that are usually only see under a magnifying glass. Staying a bit longer with Oberyn Martell’s leitmotif, let’s see if there is any of the Dornish leimotif in him.

The leitmotif of Dorne consists of a very simple undulating melody, almost devoid of any rhythm, where long-held notes evoke the endless and empty the desert.

Oberyn Martell’s leitmotif couldn’t be more different with its complex rhythms and fast notes. However, upon closer inspection a glimpse of the desert landscape is barely visible, with broken pieces of the Dorne leitmotif appearing like a mirage, never drawing attention to themselves but adding to the connection between Oberyn and his homeland.

Dorne in Oberyn Martell’s leitmotif

This subtle approach allows for a subconscious association between the two leitmotifs rather than a direct quotation: after all, the leitmotif is not “Oberyn Martell crossing Dorne”.


Objects can be incredibly simple or incredibly complex depending on the level of subjectivity of the object they refer to. The range here is quite broad, from anything belonging to a character such as weapons and clothing, to generic elements that need no subjectivity, like blood, poison and fire.

One might think that more personal objects might be harder to write than generic ones but I always have more trouble writing generic objects. I can write a dozen leitmotifs for poison in a (good) day and never pick any of them because they all are interchangeable and therefore meaningless. On the other hand, after a day of hard work spent on the Iron Throne (which is just an object despite being very, very big) I can have Aegon’s leitmotif wrought into it and feel satisfied that it represents the Iron Throne. Then I can repeat the process using Robert Baratheon’s leitmotif and have the Iron Throne during the age of the Robert I Baratheon rule and I also feel satisfied.

The Iron Throne of Aegon I Targaryen

Going back to how leitmotifs intertwine with one another. Let’s look at the accompaniment used for The Iron Throne of Aegon I Targaryen. The accompaniment in the low brass and strings outlines a very simple chord progression that repeats relentlessly, following the four note leitmotif of life, in this case symbolizing creation.

Creation in the Iron Throne of Aegon I Targaryen

I hope you enjoyed this month’s entry and you are looking forward to more diverse leitmotifs in the upcoming months. See you next month!

Maester Ludwig

Octber 2020 – Leitmotif Family Trees

Welcome to October’s diary entry. This month has been a very difficult one in the writing department. With every step I have taken forward I seem to have, somehow, ended up two steps back from where I started. Every little bit of music is scrutinized for consistency against an ever increasing amount of music, as the large picture is as important (if not more) as the small one.

For the longest time I had been thinking about how to organize the music of every house in Westeros in a way that was easy to keep track of. I ended up creating Family trees made of leitmotifs which I will be uploading to each Westerosi house. Many entries are still blank, but at least they give an idea of how complete the roster of each family is on the website. They come in handy to see the relation between members of each house as well as potential hidden links…

One important caveat is that the leitmotif representing a character on the Leitmotif Family Tree It is the simplest musical cue by which the character can be identified and does not necessarily encompass the entirety of the character musical arc. I have other documents to track the progress of a character’s musical progression that I’d rather keep under wraps.

As seen above in the Leitmotif Family Tree for House Stark, Jon Snow’s leitmotif has been uploaded to the website, which had been long overdue. See you next month!

Maester Ludwig

September 2020 – Writing is Rewriting

Hello and welcome to September’s diary entry. This month’s update will be on the briefer side as there are some bigger updates simmering in the back-burner that need more time to finish cooking. With that said, this month House Tyrell has been updated with Margaery Tyrell’s leitmotif and House Lannister with Tyrion Lannister’s leitmotif. 

One of my goals for the first year was to upload the leitmotifs of the main characters of the main Houses of Westeros, which is close to 50 different leitmotifs. So far, with 5 months left on the calendar there are 16 leitmotifs on the website, so quite short of the 30 that should have been uploaded by this time. One of the main causes of the delay is the constant need for revision of already written music and the thus the need to write and rewrite music that fits well enough into the tapestry already woven. There is nothing both more rewarding and frustrating as writing music that fits a character or a house better than the previous version. Having to review all the previous written music to see what needs to be adapted or simply discarded can be painful, although not as much as listening to music that is not as good as it could be.

But sometimes it is difficult to know how to feel about a new leitmotif right after it’s been written and I feel I need to sit on a it for a long time before I commit to it. For example, Tyrion Lannister’s leitmotif is one that I had to write and rewrite many times, putting each and every attempt aside and not listening to it for weeks (sometimes months), to see how I felt about it when I would eventually go back and listen to it again. The goal was always to create a leitmotif that resembled Tywin’s but with the right balance of slight mockery and casualness that make Tyrion who he is, and all without sounding silly or a parody.

The version that is finally uploaded today was written at least 3 months ago and had been ready to be uploaded for last month’s diary entry, but I wanted a bit more time and let the music win me over. A month later I can say that when I listen to it I can picture a cocky Tyrion at the beginning of A Game of Thrones, flailing his Lannister name left and right to get what he wants without a care in the world, but also a deeply hurt man who, if not careful, will become as bad as the father he mocks.

At the moment there are a score of leitmotifs in this musical limbo where they await to be either discarded, rewritten, or enshrined. Hopefully some of them will see the light of day soon enough. See you on the next diary entry!

Maester Ludwig

July 2020 – Website update 1.2

Welcome to July’s diary entry. This month there has been a lot of effort into beautifying the webiste, expanding onto other platforms and of course new music.

A nicer browsing experience


Last month there was a significant overhaul of the website in terms of tracks but now it was time for a more obvious overhaul in terms of appearance and usability… so a facelift has been done to make the website nicer to look at and easier to move around.

The long-winged introduction that used to cover the homepage has been moved into the About page, making way for a more useful homepage where you can now find links to the latest posts (boasting nice thumbnails) and playlists with music tracks to make for a nicer listening experience.

Also the search field  is easier to find now and links to Music of Ice and Fire on other platforms have been added, which brings us to…


Music of Ice and Fire on Youtube

UntitledThe YouTube channel is now online! There you can find videos of the music tracks with the nice addition of some notation if you want to follow along.

The video format will allow me to explore new ways to create media content so stay tuned!

Music of Ice and Fire on Twitter


Some friends have been nagging me for a while about creating a Twitter account to make it easier to share news about the website and I have to admit I have dragged my feet about it but I’m going to give it a try and see how it works. From now on I’ll be announcing updates to the website on Twitter and anything else I can think of.

One more leitmotif

Of course none of this would matter if there weren’t new music uploaded to the website. I have spent a lot of time on new leitmotifs and ideas which usually means there are few tracks that make it all the way to being finished in time for the update. Sansa’s leitmotif is a good example of the leitmotif development I spend much of my time and energy into.

When we first compare Sansa’s and Catelyn’s leitmotifs the similarities are obvious but Eddard’s influence is not as clear at first glance. Just as we saw with Robb a few months back in May’s diary entry, Sansa favors her Tully side much more than her Stark side. In fact, the first two measures are almost identical, but her Stark side is hidden in plain sight if one knows where to look. Taking the last iteration of her leitmotif (32 seconds into the track from above) the ending of her melody shows clear signs of the Stark lineage. The slow descending notes could be seen either as Tully or Stark, but the last two notes that end the leitmotif are clearly the Stark trademark signature, the Wolf’s howl, which the leitmotif had been building up to but never committed to until now.

Next month’s update will be focused entirely on new music, where I hope to publish many new themes that carry on the theme of interconnected ideas between characters. See you then!

Maester Ludwig

June 2020 – Website update 1.1

Welcome to June’s entry of my diary. This month’s update has been massive but it fly under the radar of most people since it involves very little new music. How is that possible? Well, with some very minor exceptions, all the audio tracks and accompanying images have been remade to better suit the tonality framework I have devised for the music. What does that mean? Simply put, up until know I had been writing music in the key that I liked best without any narrative concerns in mind, allowing me to focus on creating musical material without the trying to make it all fit from the beginning. This method has proved very successful, but alas, I always knew that at some point I would have to rework some music to fit the tonality framework for the music to have the cohesive narrative that I want for it. So this month I decided to bite the bullet and spend endless hours going through music files transposing, arranging and orchestrating music in different keys. The music is essentially the same so that’s why I say it has been a huge update that will go by virtually unnoticed by most people (unless of course you have perfect pitch).

The only collection of pieces that have survived the transposition cull have been the Targaryen, who used to share the key of D with the Starks, before the wolves were relocated to B♭. Why these keys in particular? I’ll talk more of that in a future diary entry about tonality and its impact on the narrative because I think it is a very interesting subject.

In any case, it wouldn’t be an update without some new music so leitmotifs for House Lannister have been added to the page, where you can now hear the Lion’s roar and Tywin Lannister’s theme.

See you in the next diary!

Maester Ludwig

May 2020 – It’s all about the leitmotifs (2)

Welcome to May’s diary entry. This week I’m publishing the page of House Tully with two tracks from Catelyn, but the real course is an expanded discussion on leitmotifs after the appetizer from last month’s update, as I want to delve into the importance leitmotifs will have in the music of the project, especially Notes of Ice and Fire and Songs of Ice and Fire.

What is a leitmotif?

Leitmotif is the English form of the German word leitmotiv (meaning leading motif) and its basic definition is a musical idea (a melody, a rhythm, a harmonic progression, etc.) that is associated to a non-musical idea (a person, a place, an event, an emotion, etc.) and thus every time the musical idea is heard the audience is made to think of something else that is not musical.

Leitmotifs are usually associated with Richard Wagner, and even though he wasn’t the first composer to ever use the concept of associating musical ideas to extra-musical ones he is responsible for its popularization. What Wager did that no one had ever done before (at least not in such an extensive manner) was the use of leitmotifs in his operas (music dramas as he called them) where almost characters, objects, places, events, and feelings had leitmotifs of their own: A  character walking on stage would be accompanied by said character’s leitmotif, followed by the leitmotif of the poison he is holding in his hand to kill himself as he mourns the death of his beloved (cue beloved’s leitmotif and death leitmotif).

Nowadays we have become accustomed to this use of leitmotifs in movies thanks mainly to John Williams, who re-popularized the concept with scores filled to the brim with leitmotifs (Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Indiana Jones to name a few).

The good, the bad, and the ugly leitmotifs

Leitmotifs are an incredibly resource and to explore them I will categorize them in three ways: Good Leitmotifs, Bad Leitmotifs, and Ugly Leitmotifs:

  • A Good Leitmotif is one that clarifies what is happening plot-wise, and makes it easier for the audience to follow along. Good leitmotifs can also link ideas together and give them new meaning when combined.
  • On the other hand, a Bad Leitmotif happens when it is used almost haphazardly, creating more confusion that if there had been no leitmotif at all. Some bad leitmotifs are bad simply because they are not distinctive enough, and they can be missed easily or what’s worse, misheard and taken for an entirely different idea.
  • But what is an Ugly Leitmotif? I’m glad you asked. There are times when the Leitmotif cannot be said to be bad, but it simply doesn’t perform as it should or it has unexpected consequences. Unlike bad leitmotifs they are not the result of incompetence on behalf of the composer, but unavoidable problems that take come with the territory:
    1. The Dog Whistling effect: This problem goes back all the way to Wagner’s days and it sadly doesn’t have a solution. Basically, the leitmotif is so good and effective that if the leitmotif doesn’t play when the audience expects it then it feels as if the music is wrong. This results in the leitmotif appearing every single time it should, without exceptions, resulting in an unnatural mannerism, where a character is mentioned and the leitmotif is played by an instrument almost instantly, like a dog responding to its master’s whistle.

      It is a catch 22 where the very essence of a leitmotif is to reinforce non-musical elements by playing consistently when it applies in context otherwise its effectiveness is weakened, but if it’s used constantly it becomes cliched. What is the solution? There is no one solution here since it is intrinsic to the technique and one is forced to live with it. The best way to deal with it is to be judicious when deciding what leitmotif needs to be played, and when exceptions can be made in order to find a balance between meeting expectations without resulting predictable.

    2. A leitmotif set in stone: Usually, when a leitmotif is truly great it basically revolves around its most memorable incarnation, so it doesn’t matter if the non-musical idea has changed and developed, the leitmotif will rarely change at all from the original version. This could be dismissed as not a problem if one adopts the idea that leitmotifs are simply another tool in a composer’s toolbox to extract a reaction from the audience and they are complementary to the plot, but I still think this is a problem that needs to be remedied.

To give an example most people would be familiar with, in Star Wars, what is known as Luke’s Theme (also known as Binary Sunset) is mostly (but not exclusively) to represent the figure of Luke Skywalker. This gorgeous leitmotif is so incredibly well defined in the Binary sunset scene that it can never change nor develop. It is exactly note by note exactly the same when it was presented in A New Hope, when Luke was but a farmer boy in a desolate planet with no future, as when in Return of the Jedi (SPOILER ALERT) Luke, as the last Jedi Master, burns the corpse of his father after redeeming him and having both brought down the emperor and freed the galaxy. That is not a world but a galaxy of development for a character, but the music is still stuck where he was 3 movies ago. This to me is incongruous to me and is something I rack my brain about how to address in A Song of Ice and Fire but the solution is clear: when a character develops through the books their leitmotif needs to change and develop with them, even if it means their original iteration of their leitmotif is never heard again later on, the same way that some aspects of their personality will never appear again after going through some trauma. There is a continuum where some characters experience many changes while others remain the same for the longest time.

Developing Leitmotifs: Catelyn Tully as Maiden and Mother


This last point of development is the reason for many joys and frustrations when writing music set to the narrative of A Song of Ice and Fire. It is not only toiling at the piano for hours looking for that one melody that matches what you think a character should sound like, it’s doing that for the same character more than once, sometimes half a dozen or more, never forgetting that all the versions of the leitmotif need to connect coherently. Sometimes a character goes from blissfully happy in book one to demented lunatic in later books, to dead, to vengeful undead, but the leitmotif needs to grow and develop with the character just as they do.

There are two leitmotifs for Catelyn I feel confident enough I can to use to make the point about the problem of setting leitmotifs in stone and not letting them grow with the character. The first leitmotif is Catelyn in her Maiden days, before marrying Eddard.

Catelyn is the model of what a maiden from the Riverlands should be. For now she is a girl who dreams of love and family who will fulfill her duty by marrying a noble lord chosen by her father. She is playful, beautiful and above all a Tully of Riverrun, of course. House Tully’s leitmotif is represented in the blue notes, and this is shared by all Tullys and descendants of Tullys. The leitmotif is very simple, a note waving up and down, always jumping in thirds around a central note. Three notes in total for the three core principles of the Tully’s: Family, Duty, Honor. Catelyn not only achieves a great balance moving back and forth between all three, she also manages to do so inserting her own personality into it, with playful notes in between the jumps that make her so cheerful, and a high and adventurous high note right before the end.

Almost twenty years later he second leitmotif is Catelyn well into A Clash of Kings.

Catelyn has lost a husband, children, and is fighting a war for survival. When she was young she could go up and down twice has fast the Leitmotif of the Tully’s, but now weariness has taken not just a toll on her, but also the notes that gave her a playful sound. Now there are only two notes left (who could these two notes represent I wonder), one of which she is incapable of reaching anymore as she is too far away and no matter how much momentum she has. The pace is slower too, and the accompaniment much more somber. This leitmotif also expands into a B section in the minor mode that didn’t exist before any tragedy had happened to her but this material will be expanded in future versions of her leitmotif, so I won’t go into detail here.

Now that we know what Catelyn’s leitmotif is we can look at Robb’s theme and see how his leitmotif is a combination of both Ned’s and Catelyn’s, with the Tully side being slightly favored. As it is a crucial element in the books, it is also important to have it in the music as well. Some people say that these elements are too difficult to be perceived unless one is explicitly told what to look for, and I agree, bur to me these are the kind of details where the magic happens, just like it takes us readers many rereads to find all the hidden details of the books and foreshadowing, this is my attempt at recreating such detail and foreshadowing in the music.

On the difficulties of complex leitmotifs

When I explain these kinds of details people usually ask me how much of this is planned in advanced and my answer is that while not 100% is planned in advance when I start working on a leitmotif, there is nothing that is not justified by the time I consider it finished.

Sometimes I work chronologically, starting with the leitmotif of a character when they are young and work my way forward developing the leitmotif with the character (this is one of several reasons why children can be easier to write leitmotifs for, as they are a clean slate). In the particular case of Catelyn, the Mother version of her Leitmotif was written back in 2016 before the Maiden version, so it was a question of writing backwards wondering what was her leitmotif when she was younger, more innocent and less traumatized.

Other times I have to finish so many more specific leitmotifs to merely be able of thinking of other leitmotifs. This is specially the case of characters who were brought up by people who were not their parents (think bastards but also wards) since the conglomerate of parental figures and perceived identities makes it a challenge to find the true essence of their real being (looking at you Jon, Joffrey and Theon)

Also, I admit there till say some main characters that have had no time dedicated to them since there are way too many variables up in the air to decide to spend hundreds of hours only to see it all by the wayside when the next two books come out.

That’s been all for this month. I hope you enjoyed this diary entry. See you in Summer!

Maester Ludwig