It was not uncommon during the era of 8-bit consoles to find that the main themes of some video games were simply chiptune versions of classic songs that were not copyrighted. For example, ‘Tetris’ used ‘The Nutcracker,’ ‘Final Fantasy II’ incorporated ‘Swan Lake’ (both by Tchaikovsky), and ‘Might & Magic’ featured Pachelbel’s ‘Canon.’ They sounded good, were adaptable, and players liked them… So, what prevented using Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ as the main theme for that little game from 1982 called ‘The Legend of Zelda’?
We are going to a ravel party
On November 22, 1928, something unique was about to happen at the Paris Opera, but many of the attendees were not even aware that they were about to witness the premiere of a melody that would resonate throughout the decades. Maurice Ravel, who adapted an Islamic song using an orchestra and his own arrangements reminiscent of Spanish boleros, debuted a song that supposedly took place in a Spanish tavern, where a dancer would climb onto a table and begin to dance, increasingly accompanied by the clapping of the audience.
At least, that’s what was written in the program booklet handed out at the entrance. Ravel preferred it to resemble a factory due to the mechanical nature of the music. In those years, it became a huge success that resurfaced fifty years later thanks to ’10, the Perfect Woman,’ where Bo Derek moved to its rhythm. The problem is that Blake Edwards did pay the corresponding rights for its use, which cannot be said for Nintendo.
After the success of the song in the film, Koji Kondo thought that Ravel’s fantasy could fit perfectly as the opening fanfare for ‘The Legend of Zelda’. They adapted it, everyone was thrilled, and the game development continued. However, once it was finished, someone realized that less than fifty years had passed since the author’s death, which meant that the tune was still under copyright in Japan. Oops.
Kondo spent the whole night reworking parts of the game’s music here and there until he came up with the melody we all know now. Miyamoto himself remembers it as a tune that “above all, suggests bravery. So I think it is the perfect song to play when you embark on an adventure.” It was just one night, but it was definitely worth it.
As of today, Ravel’s works are in the public domain in many parts of Asia and the European Union, and in the United States, they will enter the public domain starting from 2025. Will we be able to hear the ‘Bolero’ in the game that comes after ‘Tears of the Kingdom’, even as a simple reference? Well, let’s wait and see what Link has in store for us.