Time to travel to the UK! I will actually be visiting the UK for the first time next month and wanted to feature a post about British games and music. This post will mostly focus on pairing game themes and music chronologically so you can enjoy hearing music written around the same time as when a game takes place. As I was compiling music for this post, I realized that I absolutely love vocal and choral music from many of these composers, which I try to avoid pairing with board games, as I find music with text can be very distracting. I have included some below that I feel is a good match, and some just because I couldn't not include it. I also noticed a huge black hole in my research in the 1800s. There was plenty of music being written during that time, but not music that I know well or that is easy to find. If I had more time I could do more research on music in this time period, but I wanted to get this post out sooner rather than later (it is already long enough!). Lastly, a big shout-out to my Twitter followers who helped contribute some of their favorite games taking place in the UK, many of which are featured below.
Renaissance: John Dunstable
Dunstable's Veni creator spiritus is a motet, a genre of vocal polyphonic (multiple independent musical voices) music. This work is sacred, though secular motets were also written. A specific date for this work is unknown, but Dunstable lived from 1390 to 1453. What to pair with this music? The timeline is a bit off, but you might try this with various King Arthur games, especially as elements of Arthurian legend added during this time may have included Lancelot, Guinevere, and the Holy Grail. Some suggested games may include The King Is Dead and my personal favorite, Shadows over Camelot. For a more historical (and chronologically accurate) pairing, you might try Blood & Roses. For a more sacred setting, you might try the Irish side of Ora et Labora.
Baroque: Purcell & Handel
Disclaimer: This is only here because I love it so much! Also because we need more board games that feature Virgil's Aeneid. (Seriously though, is there one that I just don't know about?) "When I Am Laid in Earth," the famous aria (begins around 0:47 in the clip above) from Purcell's 1688 opera Dido and Aeneas is the tragic end of Dido. While it doesn't pair well thematically, this was written around the same time period as Unhappy King Charles! (Side note: Emma Kirkby's performance is my absolute favorite!)
Hey...wait a minute! First you stretch some timelines and now you're trying to sneak a German composer on this list??? George Frideric Handel famously moved to London when German Prince George, Handel's employer, became King George I of Great Britain and Ireland. While originally written for a wind band (an ensemble we'll see again on this list), in celebration of the end of the War of the Austrian Succession and the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in 1748, Handel rescored the work for orchestra for a later performance.
Chronologically, this work from 1749 is very close to the 1760 beginning date for Brass: Lancashire. It may not be a close thematic pairing, but this is the style of music that was written during this time period (late Baroque). The rest of the timeline for Brass is part of the "black hole" discussed earlier. Many of the UK composers during the time of Brass (~1760 until ~1850–70) studied with Mozart and wrote in a comparable style. For an on-the-nose pairing, the wind band version of "Royal Fireworks" is the brassier choice.
Early 20th-Century Romantics: Vaughan Williams, Bax, & Holst
Here we go, breaking the timeline again! Thomas Tallis (~1505–1585) is perhaps best known for his "Tunes for Archbishop Parker's Psalter," written in 1567, thanks to Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, composed in 1910. Revisiting older works seems to be a theme for British composers, as we'll see two other reimagined works on this list.
Arnold Bax's 1916 Elegiac Trio for flute, viola, and harp (an instrumentation you may recognize from Debussy's Sonata, written the previous year) was written as a response to the Easter Rising.
What to pair with both of these works? This is the time period of many of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and both of these works have an element of mystery to them, so I'll suggest two games that have been popular lately: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases and Watson & Holmes.
You may be more familiar with Holst's The Planets, but here is another celebrated wind band work that may pair well with Brass (though in a totally different time period). What makes this work? Holst used English folk songs as the basis for each movement: Glorishears, Swansea Town, Claudy Banks, I'll Love My Love, A Blacksmith Courted Me, Playford's Dancing Master, and Greensleeves.
Mid 20th-Century Giants: Vaughan Williams, Bax, & Arnold
Can you tell Arnold Bax is one of my favorite British composers? The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew is a curious piece. According to the official Arnold Bax website, "Bax actually wrote a programme note for the Pine-Trees in which he admitted ‘that in planning the composition I was thinking of two landscapes dominated by the pine trees – Norway and the West of Scotland – thinking too of the Norse sagas and of the wild traditional legends of the Highland Celt…But this work is concerned solely with the abstract mood of these places, and the pine-trees’ tale must be taken purely as a generic one. Certainly I had no specific coniferous story to relate…’" This isn't your typical "Viking music," so it might pair well with games like A Feast for Odin or the upcoming 878: Vikings – Invasions of England. This is also quite a departure from the earlier 1916 work to this one, written in 1931.
Here is Vaughan Williams again, with his 5th symphony, written between 1938 and 1943. This is a much more pastoral work than the previous selections, which might pair well with Keyflower or Key Harvest.
And now for a little humor. Malcolm Arnold revisited the concept of Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals (1886) in 1960, but instead of using the majestic creatures found in the earlier work, Arnold chose a more humorous variety, including some board game staples: COWS & SHEEP!!! There is no better pairing here than the excellent Glen More.
21st Century Remix: Max Richter
As our final example of British composers looking back in time for inspiration, Max Richter took about 25% of Vivaldi's Four Seasons and recomposed it using phasing and looping techniques you may recognize from previous posts featuring music by Steve Reich. The result is a fascinating blend of old and new, perfect for the blend of old and new inspirations and iconic locations from Key to the City – London.
I hope these music selections are enjoyable and thanks so much for reading! Let me know in the comments below about your favorite British locations to visit, music, and games!
What have I been playing a lot lately? We finally got Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 and have been working our way through it. We had an extremely rough start in our first few months thanks to a huge amount of bad luck, but we've turned that luck around. We're about halfway through and I'm excited to see where this goes. Other favorite plays this month have included 7 Wonders Duel with its expansion, another epic game of War of the Ring (Second Edition), First Class, which went immediately to my wishlist, and one of my favorite games of all time, the 2010 version of Vinhos Deluxe Edition. Thanks for reading and happy gaming!
Where has the Meeple Maestro been these past few weeks? Besides staying busy with teaching my current university courses, I have been hunting through all types of different music after receiving the following request on Twitter:
And wow...what a challenge it was! I wanted to find something that connected with the futuristic setting in a way that would complement the art, but wasn't too distracting, and would bring about an almost zen-like atmosphere. In my quest to curate the perfect playlist for Ginkgopolis I ended up creating three different options! So here we go:
Two Playlists: Music by Steve Reich
Full playlist available here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4FOoDIAVHaJ8hIW--xoS...
American composer Steve Reich has written a number of "counterpoint" compositions during his career and I wanted to experiment with putting together a playlist featuring most of them. I especially enjoyed Electric Counterpoint (featured above) for the sound of the electric guitar representing the futuristic nature of Ginkgopolis, while the contrapuntal nature of the music represented its past.
This isn't the first time Steve Reich's music has been featured on the blog (we also listened to "Different Trains" in the last post). While most would categorize his music in the genre of "minimalism" (with fellow composers John Adams, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and more), many of these composers dislike the minimal terminology, as their music is anything but minimal. The Counterpoint playlist and its compositions all feature counterpoint: music with multiple independent lines. Contrapuntal music began to develop in the Renaissance and became popular during the Baroque era. Many compositions of this genre also feature interesting and perpetual rhythmic material, which I have always associated with city-building (thanks, SimCity!).
There is a downside of this playlist, however. The Ginkgopolis box (and BGG page) boast a playtime of 45 minutes (though I think in reality it probably takes closer to an hour depending on the number of players). This playlist is only 35 minutes long. It is certainly possible to loop the playlist, but that totally seems like cheating. So I decided to add an additional musical selection from Steve Reich as an alternative:
This selection, lasting 56 minutes and hopefully a full gameplay, taps into another inspiration I had for finding music for Ginkgopolis: something with an otherworldly sound. "Music for 18 Musicians" features an eclectic group of instruments (violin, cello, female voice, piano, maracas, marimba, xylophone, metallophone, clarinet, and bass clarinet) that you wouldn't normally hear together in a small ensemble. It has many of the same qualities of the Counterpoint playlist while being a little longer to cover the full duration of the gameplay. If you like both Reich options, you could also combine them into one longer playlist.
Alternative Playlist: Music by John Luther Adams
At the end of the day, Steve Reich just isn't a good fit for everyone. I looked high and low for a contrasting alternative and finally posted some of the game's art for my music theory colleagues to see what they came up with. And they found the perfect pairing! "Become Ocean" was the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning composition by another American composer, John Luther Adams (not to be confused with minimalist composer John Adams). The composer described this work as:
"Life on this earth first emerged from the sea. As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean."
I found this to be an evocative match for the theme, described in the rulebook as:
"2212: Ginkgo Biloba, the oldest and strongest tree in the world, has become the symbol of a new method for building cities in symbiosis with nature. Humans have exhausted the resources that the Earth offered them, and humanity must now develop cities that maintain a delicate balance between resource production and consumption. Habitable space is scarce, however, and mankind must now face the challenge of building ever upwards."
While Ginkgopolis isn't a terribly thematic game, perhaps accompanying it with "Become Ocean" can help the theme stand out as you play. It is also a thematic tie to the earlier Reich music in that the composer is thinking of the future. The style of music, with large blocks of slowly shifting masses of sound, work well in the background. With the duration of the entire piece being 42 minutes, a speedy play of Ginkgopolis could use the whole work, or like the Reich Counterpoint playlist above, you may simply set "Become Ocean" to repeat.
Speaking of Ginkgopolis, I recently obtained a copy of the much sought-after expansion, Ginkgopolis: The Experts, and plan on trying some of the new modules tonight with "Become Ocean!" (My husband is one of the people that Steve Reich just doesn't work as background music.) Since my last post, things have been pretty busy, so small, quick games have been our go-to lately. I've really been enjoying Herbaceous, Santorini, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, and Hanamikoji. While little games have been easy to get out on weeknights, I have made some time for some really enjoyable plays of bigger games, notably War of the Ring (Second Edition) (my birthday game!), The Great Zimbabwe, and Kanban: Automotive Revolution.
What do composers and gamers have in common? More than you might think! One similarity is that both seem to really enjoy trains! This post will be in a slightly different format as I introduce some music inspired by trains. While some of this music might make for some interesting background music for train games, much of it is intended to be an introduction to new genres of music based on a shared love of trains. This post will introduce compositions in chronological order to highlight the compositional transition from the 19th century into the late-20th century.
Early Inspirations: Trains and the 19th Century
One of the earliest compositions inspired by trains was Philip Antony Corri's (under the pen name Arthur Clifton) Carrollton March, composed in 1828. This march was written to commemorate the the groundbreaking of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1830. Try playing this one during setup for games like Baltimore & Ohio or 1830: Railways & Robber Barons!
Next are some Viennese classics in the form of a waltz and polka from the famous Strauss family of Vienna. The first selection, the Eisenbahn-Lust Waltz, Op. 89 (Railway Delight Waltz), was written in 1836 by Johann Strauss I for the opening of the first Austrian steam railway on November 14, 1837, between the Viennese suburbs of Floridsdorf and Deutsch Wagram. While Johann Strauss I was excited for the faster travel times between concerts that trains could provide, the public was not yet in love.
28 years later, his son, Johann Strauss II (also known as the "Waltz King") would write his Vergnügungszug Polka-schnell, op. 281 (Pleasure Train Polka) in 1864. By this point, the public loved trains just as much as composers! Pleasure trains, like the ones offered by the Südbahn, or Austrian Southern Railway, featured surprise journeys and mysterious destinations for the public in Austria, thus inspiring Johann Strauss II to compose this spirited polka for the Association of Industrial Societies' Ball held in the Redoutensaal on January 19, 1864.
Heavier gamers may enjoy hearing some of these 19th century works written in years and locations featured in 18xx games, while gamers who enjoy lighter fare may find the perfect music to accompany games like Mystery Express or even Grand Austria Hotel, a possible destination for those traveling by train!
Steam Engines Around the World: Trains in the Early 20th Century
While composers in the 19th century were inspired by trains and the places they could travel in them, much of the music above was still in the musical style of the time. Beginning in the 20th century, composers inspired by trains began trying to make their music sound more like trains. First up is Arthur Honegger's Pacific 231 from 1923. Named for the number of axles in Whyte notation, this work uses a full orchestra and percussion section to imitate the sounds of a train. Honegger loved trains so much he once proclaimed, "I have always loved locomotives passionately. For me they are living creatures and I love them as others love women or horses." In 1949, Jean Mitry used the work in his film tribute to locomotives. Perhaps the sounds from this piece would pair well with Union Pacific!
Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos is perhaps most well known for his Bachianas Brasileiras, a series of nine suites written for various combinations of instruments and voices between 1930 and 1945. They are an attempt to freely adapt a number of Baroque harmonic and contrapuntal procedures (Bach) to Brazilian music (Brasil). The selection above is the fourth movement from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2, written in 1930 and subtitled "The Little Train of the Caipira." The Bach-like element is that the movement is a Toccata, while the Brasil-like element is that its subtitle refers to the local trains in the small communities of the Brazilian interior. Like Honegger's work, this is another piece that begins experimenting with how the sounds of a large ensemble can imitate a train. Perhaps this one pairs best with Railways of the World!
Wrapping up the early 20th century is American composer Ferde Grofé and his Death Valley Suite. It was commissioned by the Death Valley 49ers, a non profit organization devoted to preserving pioneering and mining history of the Death Valley region in 1949, the 100-year anniversary of the 49ers. While the second movement (heard above), 49er Emigrant Train, isn't about the same type of train as the other selections (this one is a wagon train!), I felt that the Americana style of it paired well with train games set in the early 20th century in the US, like Ticket to Ride and TransAmerica.
Adventures in the Avant-Garde: Trains in the Late-20th Century
Steve Reich is the American composer of Different Trains heard above. While the composers of the earlier parts of the 20th century used large ensembles to mimic the sound of trains, technology advancements later in the century allowed composers to use actual train sounds via tape in their compositions. Composed in 1988, Different Trains uses recordings of train sounds and interviews of people leading up to, during, and after WWII to help create its soundscape, along with a live string quartet. Melodies are derived from the spoken interviews and repeated and transformed by the string players. I've always enjoyed listening to this during games that include the destinations mentioned in each movement!
Ian Clarke is a British composer and flutist best known for his avant-garde compositions for flute, like his 1993 The Great Train Race, subtitled "The Flute As You Don’t Usually Hear It!" While Reich used recordings of train sounds, Clarke uses "extended techniques" for the flute to imitate train sounds and things like the Doppler effect. The piece begins and features throughout double-tongue techniques. Harmonics produced by over-blowing fingered notes accompany the double-tonguing at the beginning, while multi-phonics (producing more than one pitch at a time) is the next technique heard. Multi-phonics are most often produced by special fingerings provided by the composer. This is the technique used to create the really cool "train whistle" effect (and is one of my favorite sounds to play!). After the whistle, singing-and-playing at the same time, circular breathing (and a trill to capture the Doppler effect), and more double tonguing and multi-phonics close out the short work. (I've also performed the work before, so feel free to ask me anything about how to create all the sounds!)
And a bit of train humor(esque)...
Readers in the US may recognize Dvořák's Humoresque No. 7 above as accompanying "Passengers will please refrain from flushing toilets while the train is standing in the station." I have not heard this on a train myself, but in my research discovered it has reached folksong status. Has anyone heard this on a train?
A week into the new year and I've already had some great gaming! Lots of get-togethers in the area over the holidays, with Inis and Flamme Rouge being quite popular. With the school semester beginning soon things might begin to slow down a bit, but here's hoping for plenty of regular gaming as January continues.
I hope you enjoyed the post about trains and let me know in the comments below what your favorite train game and train music is!
Welcome! I have wanted to be more active in the gaming community for quite some time and dabbled around with all sorts of ideas for more involvement. Podcast? Video channel? Website? This blog is the answer! I am most comfortable with writing (thanks, academia!) and the blogging format will give me the flexibility I need without taking up a ton of extra time editing audio or video. (I may do some occasional audio/video extras from time to time—please let me know if that interests you!)
So what is this blog all about? Bringing together two of my favorite things: classical music & board games! When I say classical music, I don't necessarily mean music from the Classical era (Mozart, Haydn, et al.), but rather Western art music. There is a ton of really great music out there and I hope this blog can be a way to highlight music many people may not be familiar with and use a shared love of board games to introduce music that accompanies our favorite games.
Why me, you may be asking? I am a music theorist! (What is that? Glad you asked! Kris Shaffer has written a beautiful article here: http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/music-theory/) In short, I study how music works by learning about all of its Lego blocks, how those blocks fit together in various ways, patterns that emerge, and how music is organized. I am an assistant professor in music theory at Kent State University and my main research interests include music theory pedagogy, late nineteenth-century music, especially music by César Franck, and musical form. I am also a flutist and occasionally perform in the NE Ohio area.
Want to know more about me? Please ask in the comments below and chat with me on Twitter @mnaxer. So let's get down to business, shall we?
A very mini version of music for this game appeared on my companion Geeklist, so for my first blog post I would like to expand on some of the music that pairs well with one of this year's hit games, Scythe.
There are several ways to approach choosing music for a game: thematic considerations (what would sound best in the background of playing this game?), historical considerations (when does this game take place? what does music from that time period sound like?), geographic considerations (where does this game take place? what does music from there sound like?), IP (is there existing music from a game's IP?), and inspiration (has this theme/topic/artwork inspired musical compositions before?).
Scythe takes place in an alternate Eastern European history during the 1920s after a "Great War." Because of the direct ties to historical and geographical considerations, I have focused on these aspects for finding music that pairs well with Scythe.
History + Geography + Theme: Chamber Music by Leoš Janáček
String Quartet No. 1 (1923)
String Quartet No. 2 (1928)
My initial impression of Scythe is to focus on the folk-like character of the various villages you may pass through over the more bombastic mech battles that are a secondary part of the game. What kind of music would you hear in Jakub Rozalski's art from these scenes?
Art ©Jakub Rozalski
I always imagine chamber music, or small ensembles, to be the accompaniment of these images: string quartets, small wind ensembles like quintets or brass bands, etc. Janáček (1854–1928) was a Czech composer at the turn of the century and much of his music was influenced by Moravian and Slavic folk music. These three selections feature folk music in an intimate chamber setting and I like to imagine this is what you might hear as you walk around the world of Scythe.
If you're looking for a similar folk-music sound by Janáček that is a little more epic in scope, check out some of his works for larger ensembles: Lachian Dances (1924) and the brass-heavy Sinfonietta (1926).
History + Geography + Theme: Suites for Chamber Orchestra by Igor Stravinsky
Suite No. 1 (1921)
Suite No. 2 (1925)
This is a similar recommendation as the Janáček selections above, but from Stravinsky and Russian folk music instead.
Geography + Theme: Scythian Suite, Op. 20 by Sergei Prokofiev
Scythian Suite, Op. 20 (1915)
It has Scythe in the name!! Prokofiev composed this music for a ballet about the Scythians, "a large group of Iranian Eurasian nomads who were mentioned by the literate peoples surrounding them as inhabiting large areas in the central Eurasian steppes from about the 9th century BC until about the 1st century BC," according to Wikipedia. The commissioned work was rejected before Prokofiev finished it, so he transformed it into a stand-alone suite. While this isn't an exact thematic pairing, I have grown quite fond of this work paired with Scythe, especially during tense and climactic moments!
Prokofiev Symphonies 2–3 (1924–1928)
Shostakovich Symphonies 1–3 (1924–1929)
Excellent Russian symphonies that would also work well as accompaniment and enjoyment of the sounds of Scythe!
A quick blurb about the games I've been playing this month! December has been full of Santorini since our KS copy arrived—I cannot get enough of this game! Since we've had more family gaming than usual thanks to the holidays we've also been playing lots of Rhino Hero and Codenames. Auction games have also been big hits with Ra and Neue Heimat seeing multiple plays. Some of my favorite plays this month have been Inis, Sun Tzu, and an awesome play of Archipelago.
I hope you've enjoyed the very first post of The Meeple Maestro Blog! I'll try to get one of these up every month. Please let me know if you have any suggestions, requests, or comments below or via Twitter! Thanks for reading!