TL;DR – We explore the wonders of Ramin Djawadi’s musical score through the lens of Light of the Seven
Today we are starting out the first entry in a series about modern cinematic composers. For me at least, one of the factors that emotionally connects me to a piece of visual media, whether that be, a video game, a television show, or a film is the music. The right musical choice can make or break scenes and can be one of the factors that make these moments resonate across the media landscape. We all remember that first time we heard the Imperial March or The Avengers theme explodes onto the screen. They help us get lost on the high seas, traverse galaxies far, far away, or in our first example help us delve into a world of fire and ice. Because this is an article about music, I have added links to the songs in question so you can listen along.
Ramin Djawadi is a German/Iranian composer and the key musical voice of Game of Thrones, the hugely successful HBO series based of George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series. As a composer, Ramin has been working for a long time in the musical world starting first as an assistant and then creating addition music for films such as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Ned Kelly, working under one of the defining voices in modern composition Hans Zimmer. Before moving onto working on his own films like Iron Man and Pacific Rim.
While Ramin has composed for a number of films and video games, he is most well-known for his work in television, which is where we will be focusing on today. He is the voice behind Prison Break, FlashForward, and Person of Interest. He also brought to life a world full of sentient robots built to be the perfect servants in Westworld. Here he created some truly striking original music which we hear in the amazing Main Theme and also a song like Sweetwater. However, he flawlessly combined these original works with adaptations of songs like Heart-Shaped Box, Paint It, Black, Black Hole Sun, and Seven Nation Army. This blends together to create a musical landscape like nothing I have heard before.
However, if there is one place that Ramin’s work has reached serious prominence it is his score for Game of Thrones where he captures the awesome terror of a dragon in flight, the reanimated dead, grand battles when the point of view character is not knocked out in the first minute, and triumphant resolutions. There are so many moments in this show that would not have had the same impact if not for his work bringing the music to life. Would Daenerys finding her purpose in destroying slavery in Mhysa, massive fleets on the move, or indeed the Red Wedding have had that same power without the music behind them? With this in mind, today I want to focus on just one moment from the eight seasons of Game of Thrones to show just how powerful Ramin’s score can be. But just a quick warning for book readers the scene we are looking from has not occurred in the books yet (at time of writing).
To do this, I want to focus on the season finale of Season Six The Winds of Winter which is in many ways the tipping point for the rest of the series. The first reason why this piece of music is important is how it plays with the musical landscape Ramin has created for Game of Thrones. Throughout the series the predominant musical instrument that he uses are strings, there are the familiar strings with cellos and violins, but he also using the full range of the strings with more unusual choices like the dulcimer and kantele interspersed throughout the show. These strings are then supported by horns, percussion, or choral work depending on the group being depicted, and when you really want to hammer home that this is an important moment, well then you add all three into the mix. Through this musical language and the use of leitmotifs (musical themes) you get absorbed into the world and its music, and that is why when all of a sudden piano starts playing you sit up and pay attention because by that point in Season Six they had never used it (and at the time of writing it would only appear one more time with The Night King). For you see you must beware the piano that it is at the core of the musical score titled Light of the Seven.
To set the scene, after a season of disasters that saw Cersei (Lena Headey) debased and constantly losing power to rivals including Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) it all came to ahead with everyone brought to trial by the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) to answer for their crimes, only someone had no plans to show up. It is these first moments when we hear a church bell being used as all the characters done their armour, a call to arms and then the piano starts. As all the characters move into the position it is just the solo piano playing and the solo piano fills us with dread even before the strings arrive. There is very little ambient sound, almost no dialogue, everything is focusing you in on the music and how it feels wrong. At times there is just the hint of piano and nothing else, highlighting the unease that everyone is feeling. After a long moment of silence, the piano returns just when our fears are confirmed that something is very wrong and that is when people start dying. This is when the vocal start, two soloists that are both singing the same thing but also slightly off. A crescendo rises as cellos, and an organ joins in, and by this point, you are sitting on the edge of your chair because you can feel what is about to happen. You feel the characters work out what is happening and being absolutely unable to stop it through the score. Here the music takes on a note of desperation, something is very wrong, and then the green flame is in sight. The music continues to rise and rise, then there is just the cello and just when you think everyone might make it, Boom, and the very bell that was used to usher in the scene crashes into the ground.
I have seen this scene several times, and it still elicits the same
emotions every time I watch it. That brooding fear, the unnerving piano, the
slow build as instrument after instrument joins into the fray. The music
captures this in every way, you feel the build, you feel the worry, you feel
the concern, and you feel the terror. Could something similar have been
achieved with just some high strings playing over the top? Sure. However, by
understanding the musical landscape that he had created, Ramin was able to play
into our own perceptions of what we were expecting, and create an emotional
response by choosing a single instrument.
In the end, the Light of the Seven is not Ramin’s only stellar piece of work, nor indeed is Game of Thrones. As well as this, he is just at the start of his career with years of amazing music ahead of him. However, what this track does show is his attention to detail, and a fantastic ear that made one of the biggest moments in television history that much better.
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Game of Thrones
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on
Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV,
he’ll be talking about International Relations,
or the Solar System.
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