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Ready Player One: Classical Music and the World of Video Games

Every year ClassicFM conducts their Hall of Fame, the world’s largest classical music poll.  Listeners vote for their three favorite pieces of the last 1,000 years and the top three hundred are selected for the annual playlist.  What stuck out the most about 2017’s list was how many top positions were taken by video game music.

Many people may be surprised that some of the best composers in the world are currently making a living writing music for games.  Some have even gone on international tours performing in sold-out concert halls usually reserved for standard canon.  I feel that this is a very exciting moment for classical music.  Like music for films in the early 20th century, video game music is offering yet another venue for great music in the 21st century.

You can find great video game music at your library! I’ve made a playlist of some of my favorite scores and included a book that has a treasure trove of information for would-be game composers and listeners alike.


Best of Retro Games

Relive the sounds of classic games like Pacman, Sonic the Hedgehog, Donkey Kong, and The Legend of Zelda in their original chiptune form and in newly orchestrated versions in this wonderful collection.


Castlevania holds a special place in my heart. I’ve played just about every iteration on almost every system, and they all emphasize the importance of music to the overall feel of a game.

Final Symphony: Music from Final Fantasy VI, VII and X

The music of the Final Fantasy series is unlike any other. Nobuo Uematsu’s compositions are lush, moving, and memorable. I can’t imagine the games without them! It is no wonder that ClassicFM’s 2017 Hall of Fame has this series in the top 50 greatest compositions of all time. Uematsu is becoming as well known to concert-goers as he is to hardcore gamers. His recent tour of the Music of Final Fantasy sold out concert halls around the globe, and this recording was made at Abbey Road Studios with none other than the London Symphony Orchestra.

Silent Hill

We’ve all been creeped out at the movies by tension-building music. Think of moments in Jaws, Halloween, or Psycho. Akira Yamaoka’s scores for the Silent Hill series are no different. This collection of cues from the original game will have you re-living the nightmares all over again.


Turning best friends into instant enemies would not be nearly as enjoyable without the sounds of composer duo Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori aiding the multi-player action. Their cinematic scores for the first three games of the Halo series set the tone for video game scores in the 21st century.


Every epic story needs equally epic music. Jeremy Soule’s music answers the call and then some. His massive compositions require an army of instruments and vocalists and make for a thrilling experience in our out of the game.

A Composer’s Guide to Game Music by Winifred Phillips

Music in video games is often a sophisticated, complex composition that serves to engage the player, set the pace of play, and aid interactivity. Composers of video game music must master an array of specialized skills not taught in the conservatory, including the creation of linear loops, music chunks for horizontal resequencing, and compositional fragments for use within a generative framework. In A Composer's Guide to Game Music, Winifred Phillips -- herself an award-winning composer of video game music -- provides a comprehensive, practical guide that leads an aspiring video game composer from acquiring the necessary creative skills to understanding the function of music in games to finding work in the field.

Do you have a favorite video games score? Share your picks in the comment section below!

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