Since many games feature explosions and shooting off big guns, it seems perfect to start of the list right with Tchaikovsky's ‘1812 Overture Finale.’ And no other game since ‘Battlezone’ on Atari 2600 utilized it as well. For being one of the earliest First Person shooter games, shooting off a huge tank against various obstacles and the like seems ideal for the loud percussions of the original classical piece. For its time, it was also interesting hear Tchaikovsky's ‘1812 Overture’ in all it’s Atari glory. It was also used in Atari’s ‘Kaboom!’ but its use in ‘Battlezone’ is just as memorable and enjoyable. However it’s low on this list only because the music plays during the high score. You might as well put on the actual ‘1812’ Overture itself when playing the game.
Disney’s Fantasia is always known for its multiple classical scores. So why choose this one out of the rest of the classical scores? Well simply put, Paul Dukas’s famous piece not only defined the movie, but the game as well. Literally, it is practically the only song playing through the stages of the game. Now and then other famous scores from the movie do pop up in different levels. But primarily, it’s ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ throughout most of the game’s stages; probably also due to the fact you play as Mickey Mouse in his apprentice robe. On the Atari 2600, the game ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ was also released, but the movements to the actual piece itself played on and off intermittently. We’ll stick with the Genesis version thanks.
Back to Tchaikovsky! Did you know that he wasn’t very fond of his own ‘Nutcracker’ scores? Regardless of his own personal tastes, this did not stop Nintendo from fitting it in as the primary musical selection for the NES release of Tetris. Admittedly watching the blocks fall to the movements of ‘Sugar Plum Fairies’ actually harmonizes well. Though the more upbeat Type B music and the eerily soothing Type C music seemed more preferable, just having one of ‘The Nutcracker Suite’s’ most recognizable pieces inside one of the most famous games of all time is enough to give it a spot on the list. It should also be noted that other classical scores are known for being used in Tetris. You will find out more as we move up in our list.
Peppino Turco’s lively and upbeat Italian classic is entertaining to the point where it is also goofy. Goofiness goes well in the world of ‘Earthworm Jim 2.’ Upon juggling Peter Puppy around in the level “Puppy Love’ Jim’s frantic attempts to prevent Peter from going from pup to monster is almost mocked by this upbeat Italian song. When Turco released this international hit back in 1880, I bet he never envisioned it being used in the future in a game feature a worm juggling a puppy. You also have to appreciate that the music is played in true Italian fashion using an accordion and a cello in its SNES 16 bit glory. This definitely isn’t the first game to use upbeat classics to define a game’s zaniness.
Carmen is one of the most famous operas in history. So how do you commemorate such a great opera? Mock it of course! Georges Bizet’s well noted score received a parodied and self-absorbing rendition from the galaxy’s self-proclaimed hero ‘Captain Quark.’ In ‘Secret Agent Clank’ Quark reenacts his most “daring” of adventures by making up his own lyrics to the Bizet classic. Quark spews out his lyrics to the second movement of the song. Quark’s lyrics contain words like ‘sea lemurs’, ‘toilet’ and ‘poo.’ Do you think Bizet would have considered releasing his song had hew known what it would be used for years later? Who knows? But Qwark’s butchering of the classic for his own purpose is worth hearing in the game anyways.
Modest Mussorgsky never got to hear the version of his classic piece as we know it today. After his death it was redone by Rimsky-Korsakov and was soon redone again by Leopold Stokowski which would be the version we grew up with from the 1940 Disney film ‘Fantasia’. Since then it has also made its way into video games. The opening theme to Evil the Cat’s stage from ‘Earthworm Jim’ pays homage to the first movement, while in ‘Donkey Kong Country 2’; the Haunted Chase theme reflects the opening movements. But where it truly stands out in video games was its use in ‘Kingdom Hearts.’ Since most of us grew up with the ‘Fantasia’ version, it seemed fitting enough to be used again when Sora, Donald and Goofy took on Chernabog as one of the final bosses. Kingdom Hearts best reflects ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ not just because of it being associated with Disney’s adaptation of Chernabog, but because it was being used as ‘Boss Battle’ music. It was a perfect fit. And with a one-on-one with the master of nightmares himself, the heightened score mixed in with the eerie sounds of whirling winds spinning around Sora made it one of the most perfect, yet overlooked aspects of the game. It makes one wonder how Mussorgsky would feel knowing how far his original work has come.
It seems only natural that Richard Wagner’s famous movement would be perfect for video games involving flying war machines. One game that did utilize it was ‘Return Fire’ for 3DO and Playstation. When the player guided the helicopter through its unholy rampage of destruction, Wagner’s epic work could be heard playing. There are other games such as ‘Sim Copter’ and the ‘Parodious Series’ that utilize ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ as well. But it seemed more appropriate to put ‘Return Fire’ down here as the prime example. Remember the music playing with the iconic helicopter scene from ‘Apocalypse Now?’ ‘Return Fire’ certainly invokes a similar image of such a scene, as the battle-like fanfare drives the player forward to release their fury like the Valkyries themselves. Wagner’s fanfare has been synonymous with military action in Western Culture, and its use in ‘Return Fire’ with flying ferocity is certainly no exception.
Johann Sebastian Bach is one of history’s most celebrated composers. His work known as ‘Toccata En Fugue’ is also one of his most celebrated musical scores. But on the other hand, ‘Battle of Olympus’ is one of history’s least celebrated games. It seemed rather sad that one would pass up a game based off Greek Mythology with gameplay similar to ‘Legend of Zelda II.’ Aside from an epic adventure, they also missed out on some epic music for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Aside from the game’s own original score, it also offered a surprisingly well done 8 bit rendition of Bach’s famous piece itself. Upon entering the temple of the Greek Gods, the familiar opening movement synonymous with the organ can be heard. Though normally associated with the approach of evil, in ‘Battle for Olympus’ it was associated with the approach of good. The gods offer advice and items to help our hero along the way. As this happens, Bach’s epic piece continues to play. What makes it impressive is how the NES’s sound capabilities could nearly play all the movements to the score. The fact that it nearly is able to play nearly song of Toccata en Fugue showed an early example of the limitless potential of sound capacity in systems to come.
This moving piano piece by Ludwig Von Beethoven shares its place in quite a few games. In ‘Earthworm Jim 2’ it was used when Jim turned into a blind cave salamander, while a remixed version was used as intro screen music to ‘The Adventures of Dr. Franken.’ However, where it truly shows the heart and soul was when the piano piece itself was played by another game character in another game series. Jill Valentine invoked the spirit of Beethoven and played ‘Moonlight Sonata’ in all versions of the first ‘Resident Evil’ on a grand piano in Umbrella Mansion. What makes it stick out so much is how for the first game in the series, its somber tone set the stage for what lied ahead. Moonlight Sonata was Beethoven’s version of gentle beauty. Resident Evil was Shinji Mikami’s version of grotesque terror and mass conspiracy. The peaceful and gentle movements are an ironic testament to the horrors and tragedies that would forever define the ‘Resident Evil’ series. You can edit together clips from various Resident Evil games to this piece and it can really set up the irony and sorrow that the characters in the series have gone through when facing Umbrella's catastrophic breakout.
It is rare that a classical movement can define a video game itself. It is also rare that classical music can be made even more famous and well known thanks to a video game. In its purest form, a Russian folksong from 1861 was brought back to the Gameboy in 1989 in the game ‘Tetris’. Since then, the Russian folksong titled ‘Korobeiniki’ is now well known to many gamers throughout the world. Placed in the game as the ‘Type A’ music, gamers more than likely never heard of it before. It originally was a song from pre-Bolshevik Russia about a peddler selling miscellaneous objects and meeting a young girl. Now it is celebrated as a song associated with falling blocks. Anyone who hears ‘Korobeiniki’ nowadays will immediately think of the ‘Type A’ music from the Gameboy version of ‘Tetris.’ Tetris games have been known to use classical pieces, such as ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies’ mentioned at #8 earlier. But ‘Korobeiniki’ is special because not only is it one of the most celebrated songs in ‘Tetris’; the music itself defines ‘Tetris.’ From modern dance remixes to live performances, this simple Russian folksong is now permanently implanted in our brains all because of one of the most beloved games of all time. It is also one of the only classical pieces written in a time before video games to actually associate itself completely with famous video game music. It shares its place alongside the music from Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy and many others. Which is why, when it comes to classical music used in video games this little Russian ditty entitled ‘Korobeiniki’ truly is number 1!! DAH!!
From being used effectively in a game to defining a game itself, these classical pieces are proof that no matter what new music may come by, they still live on as timeless undying pieces that will forever be in our culture. And it is even suggested new classical music is being composed right now. Growing up with the very games on the list and many others, some of their electronic beeps still linger in our heads. You must remember that these classical pieces listed were all part of the rage back then. So if life imitates art, it is possible that certain video game music could become classical in the near future. Level 1 of 'Super Mario Brothers', The Overworld Theme of 'The Legend of Zelda', 'One Winged Angel' from Final Fantasy VII and many more might be future classics in the making for future generations to enjoy. Only time will tell if they can join the ageless classics that made up our top 10 list here!
List by slysora (09/14/2009)
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