Celes and Locke's Themes in Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI has several memorable themes, but two of my favourites are the leitmotifs (or character pieces) for Celes and Locke, two of the more fully-developed characters.

Below is Celes' theme, whose opening notes continue to remind me of Aerith's theme (FFVII). It's a light, sweet, and somewhat introspective theme, with a couple of leading tone accidentals that make it quite interesting.

Besides the accidentals, I also enjoy how the strings move in contrary motion with the melody in every other measure. That bit of "complexity" is complemeneted with a rather straightforward harmonic analysis. There's the tonic (I), predominants (IV, ii) and dominant (V) chords with a handful of iii's. The iii (the minor chord built on the third degree appears quite a bit here and function as a substitute for the dominant V.

That secondary dominant in the penultimate measure also catches the ear since it's so foreign. After all, a diatonic (i.e. "in the key") chord appearing on scale degree 7 is usually diminished (even more "minor" than "minor"), but instead we have a dominant seventh chord built on that same degree -- which means plenty of extra accidentals. Yet it leads right back to that familiar iii chord, so it's not all that strange in the grand scheme

Now, contrast this with the theme of Locke, the energetic, adventurous treasure hunter, who plays the role of "hero" for our damsel in distress.

This upbeat theme has an even simpler melody, but it also has an extra element with its rhythmic driving force. Though the other theme does some stepwise motion, this theme includes some more in the bass accompaniment and the trade-off during the second half. Though it doesn't do much with contrary motion, it does have some interesting chords (and a key change) thrown in the mix.  The bIII and bII, in particular, stand out, as do those few close-harmony chords played by the horns.

What I like most about this theme is its shift on tonal center; it starts off in G major and shifts to F major (the next portion goes into Eb major, and it eventually looping back to G). What it lacks in contrasting motion, it certainly makes up with motion in rhythm and between keys.

Each of these themes have contrasting rhythm, characters, and overall sound, which is probably why it fascinates me when they appear in counterpoint during the end credits theme. Listen for yourself: 

First, I thought it's worth mentioning that this final key, Bb with 2 flats, is the "average" of the original two keys, Eb with 1 flat and G with 1 sharp (or -1 flats). A striking coincidence? Perhaps.

Upon closer inspection, the reason why the counterpoint harmony works so well for those overlapping measures is because (1) several of the chords are actually common (though expressed differently) and (2) for the half that aren't exactly the same, their scale degrees overlap (it also helps that the notes between the melodies line up to form appropriate harmonies). To break it down, here is how the chords compare:
If you aren't as familiar with chords and their scale degrees:
  • A triad built on scale degree 1 (I), contains 1, 3, and 5 ("do, "mi", and "so")
  • A triad built on scale degree 3 (iii), contains 3, 5, and 7 (or "mi", "so", and "ti")
  • A triad built on degree 5 (V), contains 5, 7, and 2 ("so", "ti", and "re").
  • A seventh chord built on 3 (iii7), contains 3, 5, 7, and 2
So if you line up a I against a iii, you're sharing 3 and 5. If you line up a iii against a V, you're sharing 5 and 7. As long as your melodies don't have too many disagreeable notes when superimposed, you're in for a treat (especially when the independent lines form chords when they meet).

No wonder it sounds so good. Of course, that's the whole "point" to counterpoint.

If you're into games and music theory, check out Cruise Elroy.

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