Seriously Playful: 7 Classical Arrangements of Video Game Music

Nintendo composer Koji Kondo with the Video Games Live orchestra.(Photo: GogDog (flickr))
Nintendo composer Koji Kondo with the Video Games Live orchestra.(Photo: GogDog (flickr))

Composer Nico Muhly recently wrote a piece for NPR Music that explained how influential video game music was in his musical development:

“I’m positive I understand how augmented chords change an emotional texture because of Nintendo music.”

And Muhly is not alone in taking video games – and their music – seriously as an art form.

The National Endowment for the Arts recently expanded their grant program that previously supported the arts on radio and television to now also include video games.

This all got us thinking: In the age of technology, when every one of our movements is seemingly punctuated by an electronic sound, how is our connection with music changing and what even counts as “classical” music?

Could video games be another way to get people hooked on classical music?

There’s a long history (especially in Japan) of classically-inspired music being written for video games, but we now also have numerous arrangements that have taken (originally electronic) video game music and arranged it for classical instruments.

For example, here are two arrangements of works by Koji Kondo.

Kondo may not be a name you recognize, and he never received classical training as a composer, but he’s been a composer of video game music at Nintendo since 1984, and you’ll surely recognize some of his most well-known works, including the music for Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda.

Watch: the Oberlin Bassoon Quartet (because what could be better than video game music arranged for four bassoons?) play music from Kondo’s score for Super Mario Brothers.

And here’s a classical guitar arrangement of music from the Legend of Zelda (also composed by Koji Kondo).

or, if you prefer, more music from Zelda arranged for string quartet:

It turns out there’s an entire YouTube genre (the headless classical guitar video game music video?) dedicated to arrangements of vintage video game music.

Here’s another classic from that genre: the Donkey Kong theme by Yukio Kaneo.

As technology evolved and gamers moved away from the 8-bit video game console, musical scores for video games expanded, became more cinematic and are now routinely scored for full symphony orchestra.

Watch: a live performance by the Eminence Symphony Orchestra of “One Winged Angel” from Final Fantasy VII, a piece composed by Nobuo Uematsu:

Did you know there is an entire orchestra dedicated to performing nothing but music from video games?

Well, we didn’t.

But Video Games Live bills themselves as ”an immersive concert event featuring music from the most popular video games of all time.”

Here is the Video Games Live orchestra performing music from the late-90s Playstation game Metal Gear Solid.

And finally (getting back to the exposing kids to classical music theme), could video game music be a another way to get younger generations hooked on classical music? This young string quintet seems to think so:

What are some of your favorite video game scores? and do you think this music is substantial enough to stand alone outside of the games it was originally written for? Leave a comment and let us know.

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