Featuring Final Fantasy 6 Aria di Mezzo Caraterre and a lot of music.
Greetings fellow game music lovers,
so it has finally come down to this, my first shot at one of the most famous pieces in gaming history composed by maestro Nobuo Uematsu: Aria di Mezzo Caraterre ("Aria of Half Character") from Final Fantasy VI (1994). It is played during one of the pivotal points of the opera "The Dream Oath" where party-member Celes impersonates the actual singer Maria as a trap for the airship captain Setzer who has vowed to abduct Maria. An arrangement of it also later becomes the character theme of Celes. It is historically significant for being the first time a full opera sequence was featured in a video game. It is usually one of the high points of Final Fantasy symphonic concerts and ranks in popularity only comparable to Dancing Mad or One Winged Angel. Uematsus own band, the Black Mages, even performed the full sequence live with actors. Consequently, I have a lot of love and respect for this piece and hesitate about picking it apart even in the small scale as I usually do:
I shall say it up front: I do not have a "smoking gun", so to say, a single song that can be named as a source for this. Instead, I think it is based on structures that have been pased down as a musical heritage for a long time as I will demonstrate to you via the diversity of the examples. I also want to say in advance that the samples get tendencially better the older they are. Most of the time the similarity comes down to the curvature while the tone is somewhat different.
Because the piece is so complex, today I will only focus of the first part of the aria. The one which in the original english SNES version features the text "Oh my hero, so far away now. Will I ever see your smile? Love goes away, like night into day. It's just a fading dream."
Let's have a look at the first 8-notes first, the "Oh my hero, so far away now." . This progression is pretty common and appears in a multitude of songs. I repeat: This is only about the first 8 notes and makes only sense with what comes after. Some examples:
Glenn Miller - Moon Love (1942):
Or Frederick Delius piano concerto No.5 in C Minor from 1906:
Then we have this from Beethovens Sonata No. 6 (1798) which arguably goes a little further. I chose this video specifically because you can see the notes and compare the curvature with the Aria Mezzo one. Compare the first few notes of the upper part with the "oh my hero far away now will I ever see" portion:
Now why are these short 8 note sequences so relevant? To illustrate this, here is an excerpt from japanese folk singer Hirofumi Banba from his 1979 song "Sachiko" which has a progression that is structurally pretty similar to the "will I ever see your smile. Love goes away like night into day It's just a fading dream." part:
A similar progression can also be found in Ted Weems "Blue-eyed Sally" (1925):
Let's continue with some more obscure modern occurences of progressions with a comparable curvature to the one from Aria di Mezzo Caraterre (Part: Oh my hero, so far away now, will I ever see your smile). The first one is from a swedish drama series of 1990 called "Destination Nordsjön" whose title theme sounds like this:
Sam Spence "The Westerner" Music from NFL Films (1970s?):
Even african influenced Folk is not exempt from this kind of progression. Here a song called "The Cuckoo" by Ella Jenkins that was recorded as early as 1963:
Next is old time pop music, the kind of music that was popular in the west before the advent of Rock N' Roll in the 1950s.
As I repeatedly mentioned, early 20th century pop is still heavily influenced by the music of the 19th century, predominantly march and waltzes. So we will come to these next. For the "Oh my hero..." part:
Elizabeth Spencer with the Sterling Trio "Where The Morning Glories Grow" (1917):
Louis Jordan Boogie Woogie Blue Plate (1947):
And for the "Love goes away..." part:
Tommy Dorsey - Let's Get Away From It All (1941):
Perry Como - Zing Zing Zoom Zoom (1951):
Marching music is another genre where I found several interesting samples for the "Oh my hero..." part. First we have a military march by Joseph Olivadoti recorded in 1943 called "We're the Navy" that some U.S. citizens might recognize:
and another one by Eduardo Boccalari - "Il Bersagliere" (The Italian Rifleman) (1908):
So how far goes my theory at the moment? From the previous examples it can be assumed that the aria is based on structures that are pretty fundamental in music business which makes it unlikely that it can be traced back to a single source. But how far back can we go? There is another genre where I found interesting samples: 19th century viennese waltzes. Here some relevant samples from the greater composers of that era. Again, I recommend you to look at the pacing and curvature not at the tone (Relevant part: Oh my hero, so far away now, will I ever see your smile):
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker (1892) (note: Yes, it's from a russian but stylistically we end up the same):
Johann Strauss II - Reiseabenteuer - Walzer, Op. 227 (1860):
Carl Michael Ziehrer - Es war ein süsser holder Trug (from operetta "Die Drei Wünsche" (1901)):
The second part of the aria mezzo jingle, the "Love goes away..." part might also be based on a popular closing progression that is present in many waltzes. Examples:
Franz Lehàr - Walzer from the operetta "Der Graf von Luxemburg" (1909):
Oskar Nedbal - Kavalier Walzer (from the Operetta "Polenblut", 1913):
I think if you combined these with one of the marches, you might get something that sounds pretty close to the full aria mezzo verse.
Now how is this relevant to opera? As you may have observed, I selected mostly waltzes that are from musical theatre shows but rather not from opera but "operetta" ( a lighter form of opera that is more about amusement than tragedy ). Waltzes are much more common in operettas than operas due to their happy tone so I cannot rule out that Uematsu has been inspired predominantly by this kind of show rather than the traditional operas.
I also found some samples in 16th century french dance music that have some resemblance but they aren't good enough at the moment and could be regarded as prototypes at best.
Of course, the final question remains: Can we find something from an actual opera that resembles the aria mezzo jingle? I'll present you some excerpts and let you make up your own judgement (Relevant part: Oh my hero, so far away now, will I ever see your smile):
Giacomo Meyerbeer – LES HUGUENOTS – Act III finale (Brussels version) (1836):
Well, and that's all I can say about Aria di Mezzo Caraterre at the moment. We'll have one more Final Fantasy related entry before my years-end vacation which is also an interesting piece from the franchise although maybe not as often played as the opera.