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In the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Op. 35, Violin Concerto in D Major, in the very soft part at the middle of the song (07:19 in this Yehudi Menuhin recording), I've always heard the Zelda theme. It's definitely far from a 1:1 mapping though. Can someone who knows music theory describe what the semblance is, if they hear it too?

If there is similarity, do you think there's a chance Koji Kondo meant to pay some homage to Tchaikovsky? Or is this progression (if that's the correct word) "obvious" enough for anyone to discover independently during writing. (I know this is bordering on subjective / unanswerable but in Literature.SE it's par for the course to discuss likelihood of influence based on timelines and sources.)

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  • I honestly don't hear it May 17 at 3:22
  • Oh, I should have been more specific. It's exactly at 7:19 in the linked Tchaikovsky. May 17 at 5:11
  • Is 7:09 in your OP a typo, then?
    – Aaron
    May 17 at 5:18
  • @Aaron - I was referring to the beginning of sections, but I see that's confusing now. I've edited my answer to point exactly to the part in Tchaikovsky. May 17 at 5:20
  • Also it's hard to pinpoint times because it's the "emotion" that is strikingly similar to me. I don't know if it happens exactly that moment or anticipation of a future note is rebasing the "scale" or whatever for me. (More details in comments under @Aaron's answer.) May 17 at 5:41
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NOTE: This answer deals with the passage at 7:19 in the OP-linked Tchaikovsky recording (mm. 166-67; IMSLP). This is the second of two answers. The first answer deals with 7:09, which was referenced in the OP prior to editing.


The Zelda theme, at 0:15 in the OP-linked recording is

X: 1
T: Legend of Zelda, Main Title
T: Excerpt
K: Bb Major
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
EE/2F/2 _G4 FE | _D_D/2E/2 F4 ED |

Here is the Tchaikovsky solo violin part, measures 166-67.

Tchaikovsky Op. 35, Mvmt. 1, mm. 166-67, solo violin

Notice the accented notes in measure 166 and the parallel notes in measure 167. Isolating those gives:

X: 1
T: Violin Concerto, Op. 35
T: mvmt I, Solo violin, mm. 166–67 abstracted
K: D Major
M: 4/4
L: 1/16
azzb =c'zba g4 z4 | =fzz^g az=gf e4 |

For convenience, since the Zelda excerpt starts on E♭, transpose the Tchaikovsky reduction to start on the same pitch.

X: 1
T: Violin Concerto, Op. 35
T: transposed reduction
K: none
M: 4/4
L: 1/16
_EzzF _GzFE _D4 z4 | _Czz=D _Ez_DC _B,4 |

Now consider a rhythmic variation (excluding some pitches).

X: 1
T: Violin Concerto, Op. 35
T: rhythmic variation
K: none
M: 4/4
L: 1/16
_EzzF _G8 F2E2 | _CzzD _E8 _D2C2 |

And finally, observe the Tchaikovsky variation juxtaposed with Zelda.

X: 1
T: Zelda and Violin Concerto
T: thematic juxtaposition
K: none
M: 4/4
L: 1/16
V:V1 name=Tchaikovsky
_EzzF _G8 F2E2 | _CzzD _E4 _D2C2
V:V2 name=Zelda
_E2EF _G8 F2E2 | _D2_D_E F4 E2D2

Rhythmically and intervalically, they're nearly identical.

This is enough to make a connection between the two pieces given sufficient familiarity with each.

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  • Ah, thanks so much! May 17 at 7:35
  • Finally got a chance to see the sheet music results of your ABCjs on mobile (I had to switch to the desktop version to see that) - the second half of your transposed reduction is wrong - that portion needs to start with B or C flat instead of C, as the first note of the second half and the first note of the first half are a major third apart. Nevertheless, even with the correct transposition, I still don't personally hear the Zelda theme in the Tchaikovsky work, partially because the chord progressions do not match.
    – Dekkadeci
    May 17 at 10:51
  • @Dekkadeci Thanks. I've corrected the notation. I appreciate you read carefully enough to notice the mistake.
    – Aaron
    May 17 at 11:38
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Note: This answer addresses the OP as originally written, dealing with 7:09 in the linked Tchaikovsky recording. A second answer addresses 7:19.


It's a combination of rhythm and melodic pattern.

How they can be heard in association

Rhythmic correlation

First, the Tchaikovsky

The Tchaikovsky violin part, at 7:09 (measures 162-63; see IMSLP), contains the rhythm

X: 1
T: Violin Concerto, Op. 35
T: m. 162-63, rhythmic abstraction level 1
C: Tchaikovsky
K: clef=perc stafflines=1 middle=B
M: 4/4
L: 1/16
!>!BBBB !>!BBBB BBBB !>!BBBB | !>!B

Not all of the accents above are literal, but they correspond to the most prominent moments (beats 1 & 2 are double stops; beat 4 is emphasized by grace notes).

So, one way to perceive this is

X: 1
T: Violin Concerto, Op. 35
T: m. 162-63, rhythmic abstraction level 2
K: clef=perc stafflines=1 middle=B
M: 4/4
L: 1/16
!>!B4 !>!B4 z4 !>!BBBB | !>!B4

Now, Zelda

The Zelda theme, from 0:08 to 0:10, is made of the rhythm

X: 1
T: Legend of Zelda
T: Main Title excerpt
K: clef=perc stafflines=1 middle=B
M: 4/4
L: 1/16
!>!B4 !>!B4-B3B !>!BBBB | !>!B4

This can be perceived as

X: 1
T: Legend of Zelda, Main Title
T: rhythmic abstraction level 2
K: clef=perc stafflines=1 middle=B
M: 4/4
L: 1/16
!>!B4 !>!B4 z4 !>!BBBB | !>!B4

Which is identical to the perceived Tchaikovsky rhythm.1

Melodic correlation

The (perceived) rhythmic similarity is reinforced by a melodic similarity. Both rhythmically similar portions of the piece contain major scales.

X: 1
T: Violin Concerto, Op. 35
T: m. 162, solo violin, A major scale
C: Tchaikovsky
K: D major
M: 4/4
L: 1/16
[=ce]G,EG [=ce]G,EG "A"A"B"B"C#"c"D"d {e=f}"E"eceg |
X: 1
T: Legend of Zelda, Main Title
K: Bb major
M: 4/4
L: 1/16
B4 F4-F3B "Bb"B"C"c"D"d"Eb"e | "F"f4

These two elements combined — the close (perceived) rhythmic similarity and the presence of a prominent major scale — are sufficient to create an association between the two pieces.

Is the association intentional?

Doubtful. The similarities are too abstract/obscure for a clear association to be made. To hide an homage so deeply (and minimally) would seem to defeat the purpose. Presumably Kondo would want a more easily noticed allusion.


1 Another point of correlation is the grace notes preceding beat 4 in the Tchaikovsky with the sixteenth note preceding beat 4 in Zelda. The anacruses into beat 4 may also be a part of the overall sense of similarity.

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  • Thanks! I'm sorry, I should have been more specific. (Part of me was hoping others would pick up exactly where without me being specific, supporting that there is a similarity.) It's possible the points you mention "primed" me for the following: What do you think about the parts at 7:19 in the linked Tchaikovsky? Compared to the Zelda, they both have a descending scale there. But it's something about the surrounding notes that feels uniquely similar between them to me. May 17 at 5:19
  • @AndrewCheong I can construct a reason you might hear them as similar, but it would be an even greater abstraction that in my current post. Briefly, the Tchaikovsky has notes that go down-up-down-up. The direction of those notes, and the distance between them is vaguely similar between the two pieces. There's also some rhythmic similarity.
    – Aaron
    May 17 at 5:19
  • I think It's something about the "wrong" notes in each piece. In Tchaikovsky, there's a "wrong" note around 7:20-7:21 in the double-stops. In Zelda, it's in the upward scale at 0:09, Bb Bb C D Eb F. I feel as if the D "should" be a Db. And there's more beyond but it's hard for me to isolate. Although I don't know any music theory, I've always been extremely keen on feelings, and the 2 just sound like the same "emotion" to me. No worries if you're still not seeing / hearing it. It must just be a very specific trigger to me. Thanks. May 17 at 5:39
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    @AndrewCheong The opening of Zelda is in Bb minor, but when the main theme starts (just before the scale), there's a switch to Bb major. If one's ear doesn't make the shift, then the D in the scale will sound wrong, because a Db would be expected. In the Tchaikovsky double-stops, one of them contains C (below) and B (above). This is a dissonant interval and will also sound "wrong". Moreover, that measure of the Tchaikovsky contains a switch from A minor to C major. The "feel" you get is probably the shift from minor to major combined with the perceived/actual "wrong" notes.
    – Aaron
    May 17 at 6:23

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