While I was up in New Jersey—I’m mentioning that about as frequently as Ben Shapiro mentioning that his wife is a doctor—my older brother sent me a review of the original soundtrack for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I highly recommend you check out both the review and the soundtrack.
Ocarina of Time was the major Legend of Zelda release for the Nintendo 64 (N64), and it was an instant classic. It’s also a testament to the strength of its soundtrack that I never really appreciated how different composer Koji Kondo‘s pieces were for the game.
As the reviewer points out, the hardware limitations of the old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) meant that composers like Kondo had a limited palette with which to work. Future systems opened up new soundscapes and possibilities (although, apparently the N64 still struggled with limitations of its own), which Kondo exploited in the globetrotting soundtrack for Ocarina of Time.
I still have students to this day who play, either from sheet music or by ear, pieces from Ocarina of Time, a game that was released when I was thirteen- (nearly fourteen-) years old. That it possesses such staying power twenty-one years later demonstrates how powerful Kondo’s composing is.
Remember, Koji Kondo wrote the iconic “do-do-doot-do-do-doot—doot!” of the Super Mario Brothers theme song. My girlfriend—like Ben Shapiro’s wife, a doctor, just not a kind quite as lucrative—will randomly sing those opening doot-dos. He also wrote one of my favorite pieces, the equally iconic Legend of Zelda theme.
I would argue—not very originally, I’ll hasten to note—that video game music is among some of the finest modern classical music written and performed today. I love the trend of major (and minor!) orchestras staging “video game night” concerts. What a wonderful way to introduce listeners young and old to the joys of the symphony.
My own electronic compositions (check out the player below to hear my song cycle The Four Unicorns of the Apocalypse) pull greatly and unabashedly from the great video game soundtracks of my childhood. In at least that instance, Koji Kondo’s ingenious arrangements have influenced my own composing as much—indeed, more than—some of the greats of classical music. I love Mozart, but Kondo has been the greater stylistic influence on my writing.
That’s all to say that video game music has greatly enriched our lives, and I hope that composers like Kondo—who has touched the lives of millions of people the world over with his whimsical and powerful pieces—will receive their due credit. It is richly deserved.