With Jeremy Soule having recently scored his third instalment — almost 10 years since the first, Morrowind — now would be an excellent time to not only review the Skyrim OST, but also to make a little note on how the music has changed over the years.
Soule’s talent for truly gorgeous melodies and textures is even better than it was in Oblivion, and this time around he’s been mixing it up with some very classical chord progressions, as well as a big classical choir with almost operatic soloists. I know, it took me by surprise, too.
Soule was probably listening to a bit of Tchaikovsky and his friends from the classical period while writing the music for Skyrim. Most of the tracks still follow Soule’s own style, but there are plenty of bridges and intermediary parts that sound almost like they were taken straight out of two centuries ago.
Journey’s End (Explore Day 7) is a particularly good example of this. Around 1:50, we’re treated to a section of music that, for lack of a better explanation, doesn’t really belong in today. It’s certainly beautiful and the stylistic dissonance does offer a very particular kind of off-worldly sensation.
This notwithstanding, Soule is still an old-school composer from the early days of video games. His tracks are largely focused on melodies and textures and are very electroacoustic in their simple orchestrations. He focuses on using as little as possible to get as much as is needed. His movements are dynamic, he’s imaginative with the bass line and melodies are unmistakeable.
Character & Sound
Those of you who have followed Soule’s work over the years will remember back when he had a penchant for using too much reverb on his tracks. Well, his period of being over that now seems to have come to a close, and Skyrim‘s soundtrack features a sound that is drenched in reverb and layering, resulting in a very broad and smeared sound.
The basses are barely more than a low rumble, short string attacks echo off in the distance and when the instruments pause it takes a good few seconds for the sound to trail off. This gives the music a very ambient sound, but Soule has managed to make the melodies stick out above the harmony nevertheless.
One strange thing is that the soundtrack isn’t using the standard tone register. It’s off by 0.25, upwards. If you happen to run into Soule at a gaming convention, do me a favour and ask what’s up with that.
My Personal Opinion
I love Skyrim‘s music (I probably wouldn’t even have played the game without it.) and I listen to it from time to time as if it were just music rather than a soundtrack (which is very rare in the case of myself). I find that it is particularly good for listening to whilst writing fantasy stories or really creating anything fantasy-esque.
The big question is: is it better than Oblivion‘s score? I would say yes, but it’s better in the same sense that Oblivion‘s score is better than Morrowind‘s — they’re different enough to be partly incomparable. It’d be like comparing Morrowind‘s soundtrack to that of Deus Ex. Apples and oranges. I will say that Soule is definitely a better composer this time around. He’s become very confident and takes risks with complicated movements here and there.
Transcribing Soule’s music is hard. Harder than any other composer. A few have complained that the viola parts weren’t included in my Sons of Skyrim transcription. To that I can only say that I wish I could transcribe those parts, but Soule loves subtlety, and while it sounds great and you can hear the notes, it’s nigh impossible to make out what they are accurately enough for it to be of any use to anyone.
In any case, I’ve transcribed the motifs from my three favourite tracks of the score.
Journey’s End (Explore 7, Day)
Whilst I wouldn’t say that this is a great motif, it does have something very alluring about it, which is why it ends up on my list of favourites. This is an excellent example of how all the reverb and layering results in a very smeared sound. Nevertheless, the thickness is excellent for what this song is trying to achieve, which is a barely melodic… melody and a lot of moving lines.
The initial E flat is held out for a lot longer and then it disappears into the mix, a typical example of the subtlety and very electroacoustic orchestration Soule likes to employ.
Far Horizons (Explore 8, Day)
I’m probably not alone in picking this one as my favourite track of the score. It has such an elegantly simple melody and chord progression with that beautiful third in second inversion.. The cello line is also very well written, hanging a lot around the B flat, resulting in a recognisable tremolo-kind of pattern that goes very well in line with the quite steady and tight dramatic character of the motif. I would say that it’s very strident and confident; fitting for a heroic determination.
The City Gates (Town 1)
This excerpt ended up too big to be embedded so I made a PDF of it: The City Gates Motif
For those of you who are interested, I’m reasonably certain that Soule uses LASS (LA Scoring Strings) for the cellos in this track. The similarity is unmistakeable.
An Evolution Track
There is one composition that has remained through all three titles. In Morrowind it was number 5, called Rise to Reality (or Silt Sunrise). In Oblivion, it was number 3, called Through the Valleys, and in Skyrim it’s number 4, called The Jerall Mountains. I’ve created a crossfade of the first minute of each track.
As you can tell, Soule mixed it up a bit for Oblivion and then went back closer to the original for Skyrim. The opening melody is iconic and very typical Soule with the large skips.
Skyrim’s soundtrack will undoubtedly go down as one of Soule’s greats. It is easily the best component of the game and the entire atmosphere would be lost without it. Personally, I can’t wait for the next Elder Scrolls title; I’m excited to hear what he’ll come up with next.
Head over to directsong and get your own copy of the Skyrim soundtrack.
All the best,