Greetings, everyone !
For my first analysis and second post of this brand new blog, I am delighted to discuss One Winged Angel, from Final Fantasy VII. This Final Fantasy was out in 1997, it is the one who permitted the Final Fantasy series to be well-known and to gain more players & sales for the following ones. I must say I know the game, but not because I have played it : I was young at the time and watched my older brother playing. Even though I never really played, I remember the characters, the story (a bit), and of course the music.
The soundtrack was composed by Nobuo Uemtasu, who actually composed the soundtracks for almost all the Final Fantasy games. This one is the theme of the villain in this game, and the music can be heard during the final battle against him. It is said that it was the first music with lyrics when the game came out, and I will also add that the music is famous.
So, why is it famous ?
Firstly, it is due to the villain called Sephiroth, whom is absolutely badass. Really, it is true, just look at this photograph and feel this aura he is emitting :
Sephiroth is imposing, he has a long sword called “Masamune”, extremely long silver hair, and he has this way of looking at you – as if you were uninteresting and useless (true story).
I must tell I am cheating a bit, this art is from an other game : Dissidia : Final Fantasy on PSP. Sephiroth is indeed a playable character in this game and in Dissidia 012 : Final Fantasy, which is the following Dissidia.
He can also be found in the Kingdom Hearts games (I & II) on PS2 as a powerful enemy, and in the film Final Fantasy VII : Advent Children.
Even though there are several versions of One Winged Angel, I chose to stick to the original, though it is the orchestral version (it is easier & more interesting to analyse it).
- Part A = 0:00-1:10
- Chorus = 1:10-1:45
- Part B = 1:45-2:02
- Chorus = 2:02-2:24
- Part C = 2:24-3:14
- Coda = 3:14-3:34
- Finale = 3:34-end
Now, here we go !
Right from the start, in a few seconds, you can hear the violence of this musical piece, defining the personality of Sephiroth, with first the dynamic that is clearly forte, and the violins doing staccato notes (brief notes), which are also marked and amplified by the drums. The notes are highlighting the tempo (pulsation) and the aggressiveness is due to all that. There is a similarity about how the violins unleash this violence with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring : Augurs of Spring. It is said that Nobuo Uematsu was inspired by Stravinsky’s piece, and I do feel that it is very much alike for the very first notes.
After these violent beats, the violins do something completely different that reminds me of an alarm, meaning that danger is coming. It is dissonant, high-pitched, disagreable to hear. It also reveals the tension and the fear that we will feel throughout the piece, and what the character embodies. At 00:18, the french horn makes his arrival, by being violent, accompanied by drums, and violins being dissonant again. The french horn gives the impression that someone is saying : “Sephiroth is coming”. It is some kind of warning, and the violins underline the stress with the dissonance. Of course at 00:28 the stress is even more amplified with the wind instruments doing these rhythms, with the first note being marked :
Not only is the first note marked, but each time it is higher to add more tension and the last one goes back from the beginning : the tension is dropped but suspense can be felt.
From 0:40, it is a bit different and it is actually some kind of transition, before arriving to the chorus. The piano can be heard, doing arpeggios (multiple detached chords) that are dissonant, which enhances the anxiety. A crescendo begins from 0:54 with the string & wind instruments and the drums ; it is more or less like the previous transition but this one is real and bigger (and it leads to our chorus!)
The choirs make their appearance, accompanied by the string & brass instruments. We can clearly hear that the choirs are relevant, and give this holy feeling… as if Sephiroth were some kind of God. Of course, this is due to the fact that he is powerful though evil, but he is a hell of a god ! (sorry for the pun)
His name is pronounced twice at a certain moment, accompanied then by violins and a tolling bell just after that (which is a bit discreet, though), as if it were to announce death. The same thing goes on again with the entrance of the trombone, playing a theme to get a darker atmosphere and after the choirs says “Sephiroth!”, it is amplified by the brass instruments’ answer.
I have to say I am sorry as I do not comment on the lyrics, but I chose to only focus on the music!
This part is calmer, but is as dark as the other ones. It is short, and there is actually not much to say. The choirs are still present, the lyrics are not the same, and they are accompanied by the trumpets & drums. You can still feel uncomfortable by the atmosphere this part gives.
And it comes back, more forte, again with the mix of the choirs & the trombone – and it’s more intense! Though, when we hear “Sephiroth!” the violins & the flutes answer the call with high-pitched and dissonant notes, which are, again, some sort of alarm.
There is a transition that leads to Part C with the choirs saying “Oh…” and a big crescendo at the end with the drums.
This one might be my favorite part. It begins mezzoforte, and there is a big crescendo, taking its tall little by little, and this is what I love. I feel like it is an ode to the powerfulness of the character, and to me it is both beautiful and dangerous. The danger is sensed by the crescendo.
Firstly, we hear the string instruments, with the violins doing staccatos (detached notes), and others doing a theme, along with some wind instruments (flutes, clarinet).
Then, at 2:38 it’s getting more dynamic and overwhelming as more instruments are added, and mostly because of the timbals which accentuate the violence.
The darkness & danger are felt by the trombone at 2:50, leading the orchestra. The crescendo is still going on, more instruments are added again (trumpets, flutes…) and finally there is, at 3:05, a dialogue between the string & brass instruments as if something were about to happen – it is also the summit of the crescendo.
It’s finally the end of this overwhelming hell – we were immerged into this darkness, with full orchestra and tension. Therefore, to soothe us, the Coda comes !
Just before that, a sound can be heard, as if a page was turned, both literally and figuratively : this Coda is, clearly, so much different from anything you’ve heard until now. What is fantastic is the fact that it is positive, cheerful, and magnificent. It is piano, light, and bright. There are no drums, except during the crescendo at the end ; not having drums gives this serene feeling. Whenever I listen to it, I imagine myself as a child, running after a butterfly in a field, with a marvelous weather. I know it is weird and might be some kind of cliché, but I really do imagine that.
However, this dream is ceased with the crescendo at the end, which drives us back to Sephiroth’s dark side, again with the same sound as the beginning. The coda actually lasts 20 seconds, which is very little. Therefore, in my view, it is to show that Sephiroth was once “human”: he was not always evil, but that was the past, and the past is closed. He is now full of darkness and cannot go back.
At last, the finale ! I know my analysis is very long, but that is because I have lots of things to say, but do not worry, I am almost done !
Choirs (men singing) are back again, calling (“Come come, Sephiroth…”) our dear villain ; the strings arrive to accompany them, doing the same note over and over again, high-pitched, to bring a sense of danger and anxiety. At 3:50, a second choir of women arrives, and little by little it gets more intense by the arrival of other instruments (drums, wind & brass instruments) and a crescendo. The orchestra is then at its summit, full, and more heroic than ever. When Sephiroth is being called as in the chorus, there are actually brass instruments accompanying the choirs instead of the string instruments, giving more intensity.
At the last crescendo (4:14), the violins create a suspense, there are more of them to enhance it, and of course the musical piece ends by “Sephiroth” with the choirs and the full orchestra together to remind us, as we still didn’t understand it, that it was Sephiroth’s theme.
I guess now is the time for me to end this post by relating what I think about this theme. It is entirely evil and magnificent at the same time, it gives the impression that the villain is God-like, as if he were impossible to kill, and too powerful. It is an astounding music for a final battle, and was completely different from the ones of the previous Final Fantasy games (I am still talking about the final battle themes).
Throughout the piece, we feel overwhelmed by fear, tension, anxiety, and stress. There is only one part that is joyful, however, only 20s are given to this one for a simple reason : Sephiroth is all about evil, so why should he have this positive part attached to him ? The sound that opens and closes this part are to tell us how he was in the past, when he was a normal person. This part is also actually different in the Final Fantasy VII : Advent Children version (3:14) – there is a solo guitar, and nothing is quieter or merry: it’s quite the opposite.
Finally, clearly, I am fond of this musical piece with this astonishing mix I just mentioned. I do think Nobuo Uematsu is an amazing composer and made a great job at representing Sephiroth by composing this theme.
I hope you guys liked it, please do not hesitate to comment on something, whenever it is something that is unclear to you, or if you have an other point of view on it.
Next week I will be commenting on a music theme from a TV series.