Final Fantasy Symphonic Suite
Final Fantasy Symphonic Suite
Datam Polystar (1st Edition); Polystar (2nd Edition)
July 25, 1989; March 25, 1994
Buy at CDJapan
The Final Fantasy Symphonic Suite brought Nobuo Uematsu’s delightful melodies on to symphony orchestra for the first time. Unlike most Final Fantasy arranged albums, rather than being a studio performance, this suite was recorded during a live concert from the eminent Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. The item listings are built of scenes, seven in total, which assimilate together to produce a symphonic suite. Each scene is a symphonic arrangement of one or more themes from Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II, arranged by father-and-son duo Takayuki Hattori and Katsuhisa Hattori. While an old live recording, the suite is still highly impressive to this day.
“Scene I”, the arrangement of the “Final Fantasy II Main Theme”, is best described as being ‘epic’. Beginning slowly with a long suspended note of a tuba as the audience gets time to sit back, our minds are left to anticipate the awe that is about to emerge from the shadows. As the cymbals momentously crash, the theme proudly explodes into a rich orchestration. The strings impressively sing out the famous main theme and they fill the concert hall, supported by a full choir. As the vocals grow to become increasingly more integral parts of the performance, so do the brass section, which leads in several places once they move away from the countermelody they initially provide. While the textures are subtly thickened, an evocative chromatic shift marks the recapitulation of the main theme. Nobuo Uematsu’s original melodies were left rather untouched by this arrangement and quite rightfully so, but the Hattoris ensure that this arrangement goes way beyond its original and into a full-blown masterpiece.
“Scene II”, based on Final Fantasy II‘s “Battle Scene 2,” is the weakest addition to the suite. For a battle track, this track seems unusually thin in texture and, rather than relying on an in-your-face instrumental racket to build up the tense battle-like atmosphere for this track, the Hattoris rely on much more subtle melodic and harmonic methods. Among the most notable of these is the addition of lots of chromatic harmonies, as well as the addition of dissonant crashes at crucial points. In addition various synth ‘monster’ noises are well integrated throughout the track adding to its strong atmosphere further. However, the synth drumbeats detract heavily from the overall success of the track; while they add a battle beat to the track at the beginning, they quickly get annoying and repetitive as they drone relentlessly on and on. Thankfully, these fade and are less prominent in the last part of the track. Here, a new crisis motif is added that eventually leads the track into what is a rather unexpected and seemingly unfinished conclusion.
The first of several arch-shaped medleys on the soundtrack, “Scene III” is a superbly arranged medley of three Final Fantasy themes. It begins with a straightforward but rousing orchestration of the “Opening Theme” (more commonly known in later soundtracks as the “Final Fantasy” theme). Thereafter the orchestral transitions into a soft woodwind-based arrangement of the “Town” theme that is unremarkable but lovely nonetheless. The sooth transition into “Matoya’s Cave” is even more remarkable. The original is probably the most rounded and atmospheric melody Uematsu created for Final Fantasy and it works even better in this album thanks to the Hattoris’ appropriate use of instrumental contrasts and addition of vocals. The best part of the whole scene, however, is the great surge of energy as the scene undergoes the magnificent progression from this theme back to the opener. This brings the track round full circle, both thematically and emotionally, and gives additional meaning to the medley,.
“Scene IV” is the symphonic arrangement of the Final Fantasy II “Finale” (perhaps better known as “Love Will Grow” from the second Final Fantasy Vocal Collection). Just like the original, it starts off calmly, but is enhanced by the impressionistic touches the Hattoris add along the way. This introduction is primarily based upon a descending harp and glockenspiel arpeggio pattern against the fittingly thin accompaniment of the ‘cello’s long bass notes. Although nothing too fascinating, it allows the statement of the main theme within the first minute of the piece to have much greater impact than it would have originally done. As the theme is developed, the instrumentation shifts into a more conventional symphonic tone. It essentially consists of the violins leading, the ‘cello accompanying, and the brass providing a countermelody. Another key feature of this arrangement is the use of dynamics, gradated and shifted to emphasise the emotional quality. The soft interlude around the 3:00 mark and the majestic build-up prior to the end of the piece generate the enormous effects the Hattoris had intended.
“Scene V” is probably the album’s most famous and notable creation, as well as the album’s longest track, topping up at eight minutes. It opens strongly with a bright fanfare-like melody that is entirely unique to this album. The suite then fades into silence and a solo harp gently emerges to play the arpeggio pattern that harmonises the famous “Prelude” theme. A solo flute player plays the airy melody that protrudes over this harp beautifully. These tender tones are not entirely lost as the progression from the “Prelude” to the “Final Fantasy Main Theme” is gradual and effortless. I have to confess that I never had great passion towards the Uematsu’s “Main Theme,” but thanks to yet more orchestral mastery from the Hattoris, this orchestration is highly emotional. As the scene moves into the imposing brass fanfare, the “Chaos’ Temple” theme, the scene eventually reaches its long-awaited climax once the full orchestra joins in dramatic fashion. Being the intelligent musicians that they are, the Hattoris are very careful to ensure that the performance doesn’t become an ‘in-your-face’ one by making a much needed reprise back to the “Opening Theme” melody, one much faster in nature than before and complete with some fascinating imitative structures.
The final medley of the suite isn’t quite as impressive, but is impressive for the way it gradually darkens in a programmatic way. It begins lightly with the famous “Gurgu Volcano” theme from Final Fantasy. The instrumentation use here is appropriately sparse — the Eb Clarinet leads the way with a well-articulated solo and is accompanied delicately by some less distinguished counterpoint from the Bb clarinets and trumpets. The Hattoris lose no time in darkening the theme however, by making a rather brash yet hardly unmusical transition into Final Fantasy II‘s “Dungeon” theme. The atmosphere brewing with Uematsu’s chord progressions here are strengthened by the way the textures progressively thicken up to the final transition, this time into the evil “Imperial Army’s Theme” from Final Fantasy II. By far the darkest addition to the suite, the string use particularly emphasises the atmosphere. Unfortunately, however, this theme never really properly concludes, unlike the other scenes, and is left on a rather interrupted note. However, in some ways, this is appropriate, considering it is an ideal preparation of the last scene of the suite that follows it.
The suite concludes in a similar way to how it opens through a single and wholly beautiful arrangement of a highly melodious theme. This one is the “Rebel Army’s Theme” from Final Fantasy II. The first minute of the scene mainly consists of the simple homophonic textures of the high strings singing the melody while accompanied by the sustained notes in the lower strings; however, at the 50 second mark, in typical orchestral fashion, the brass take over the main theme playing with even greater sense of pride and determination. The musicality of such an arrangement only really begins to become evident in the sensitively arranged interlude section that follows, which is entirely unique to this arrangement and demonstrates the Hattoris’ careful interweaving between homophonic and polyphonic textures. From this, with the roar of a triumphant trumpet fanfare, the main melody is revived in its thickest texture with strings, brass, and vocals all joining together in one. Such grandeur and magnificence is sustained throughout until the end of the piece and is supported by a modulation to what appears to be the key a semitone higher to maintain interest. A small, yet entirely appropriate, coda finishes the piece with some sustained chords while the grand rounds of applause from the audience in the concert hall gives the cheers this suite deserves.
Even though Final Fantasy Symphonic Suite was the series’ first arranged album, its high quality makes it remain one of the very best. Through the Hattoris emphasise the melodic richness and emotional qualities of Uematsu’s melodies, while offering convincing orchestration and novel segmnets. Their supreme musicality is particularly evident by their structuring of the three medley scenes. Some will find it a little traditional while others will abhor a few moments (e.g. the drum machine use in “Scene II”), but most will love the album from start to finish.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.