Game of Thrones, the dramatic HBO series that took the world by storm, is finally coming to an end this month, and while most people are bracing themselves for the last time they’ll hear that captivating theme music, string players have the advantage of recreating the theme on their own instruments, whenever the mood may strike. I recently acquired a deep sounding viola and nothing gave me more pleasure than playing that theme over and over again in my living room.
It’s been fun hearing some of the students in our lessons program occasionally playing the theme music in our practice rooms and one of our chamber groups even played the theme at a recent concert. In fact, it seems there hasn't been this much hype over theme music since the revitalization of the Star Wars saga.
In 2011 German-Iranian score composer Ramin Djawadi was selected to compose the music to Game of Thrones. Djawadi is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music and has worked with film composer Hans Zimmer on many projects including the music to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Batman and The Island.
Djawadi started composing the theme music to Game of Thrones after being shown a preliminary version of the animated title sequence. He was told by the show ‘s creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss that the main title theme should be about a journey because there is a lot of traveling that takes place in the show. They also asked him to avoid using flutes and solo vocals, because they believed they were over-used in fantasy themes. Djawadi ultimately chose the cello as the main instrument around which the theme would be centered because he believed that the darkness of its tone would be appropriate for the show.
The piece begins with the main riff on which the theme is built which is played in a minor key, then briefly switches to a major key before switching back to a minor key. The main theme is then introduced by a cello and later joined by a violin, which Djawadi added to suggest an interplay between different characters. The theme is then repeated by an orchestra. The next section of the music has a change in theme which Djawadi describes as giving “a sense of adventure.” This section is repeated with an added chorus of twenty female voices which was recorded in Prague. The tune ends with a combination of dulcimer and kantele, which is a Finnish plucked instrument.
The overall effect of the theme is that is provides the listener with an uplifting sense of adventure. Interestingly, Djawadi claims to experience the perceptual phenomenon called synesthesia, whereby he associates music with colors, which is possibly what makes his music so compelling.
The Game of Thrones theme music has inspired many cover versions and tributes around the world as well as several parodies performed on South Park, The Simpsons and by comedic musician Weird Al Yankovic. In my opinion, if a piece of theme music is infectious enough for people to want to pick up their instruments and spontaneously start playing it then it’s probably not dying out any time soon. The show may be over but the music will live on, especially among string players.