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[Analysis] Animenz’s Merry-Go-Round-Of-Life

The main theme of Japanese animated movie <Howl's Moving Castle>, 'Merry-Go-Round of Life' composed by Joe Hisaishi. Released by Studio Ghibli Records on Nov 19, 2004.

Origin of the Howl's Moving Castle

In 2004, Studio Ghibli released a popular Japanese animated fantasy movie directed by Japan's greatest anime director Hayao Miyazaki based on Diana Wynne Jones novel of the same name Howl's Moving Castle. The story is about a young milliner who is turned into an elderly woman because of a curse cast on her by an evil witch; Sophie and Howl, a wizard with a magical flying castle and their eventful journey packed with love, jealousy, war, self-confidence, friendship and magic.

<'Howl's Moving Castle' Official Trailer>

Introduction to the Original Composition

The essence of the movie Miyazaki brought was about life overcoming fears in the discovery of self-worth which the main characters go through in the movie which mirrors well with the theme song Merry-Go-Round of life or in Japanese 人生のメリーゴーランド(Jinsei no merīgōrando) composed by Joe Hisaishi. In 2004 Merry-Go-Round of Life was released as the main theme of the said movie.


Merry-Go-Round of Life

'Howl's Moving Castle' OST

- Album: Howl's Moving Castle - Artist/Composer: Joe Hisaishi

- Release date: November 19, 2004

- Label: Studio Ghibli Records

- Key: G minor

- Instrumentation : Full Orchestra

- Length: 2'33"


<Album 'Merry-Go-Round of Life (from 'Howl's Moving Castle')', released February 14, 2020>

Merry go round is a metaphor for a life journey starting from a child, then becoming playful youth to becoming chaotic youth, reaching the peak of adulthood, and finally bringing an end with soft and slow closure and will go on continuing. Hisaishi with this majestic Waltz Orchestra goes ups and downs just like a merry-go-round showing all the highs and lows in life. He alternates with different harmony to every phase to parallel the different phases of life. Starting from the piano solo opening, then introducing the main theme, strings are joined with an Oboe solo flowing to the waltz. Hisaishi's music is breathtaking and flows like magic. Every note, key and phase have its purpose coming all together is enchantment.

<The introduction of 'Merry go round of life', Animenz's piano sheet from>

The piece is written in waltz time, with ¾ time signature in three sections where the third section is a variation of the first consisting of 16 bars cut. In comparison; with an average song, Merry-Go-Round of life is much more chord complex and has novelty in a chord progression The music is written in G minor. As Ernst Paurer describes the key for sentimentalism often represents sadness which is in contrast used in the merry-go-round of life where it is used for an upbeat waltz. Most of the piece is in G minor, and Hisaishi seamlessly goes back and forth with relative major B-flat. Interestingly, at the end of the piece, the final chord which modulus upwards is unconventional as it doesn't mean a conclusion but rather an open chord. This leaves the audience to keep listening and continuing the piece that Hisaishi cleverly loops with Merry-Go-Round and keeps going on.

Animenz’s Arrangement on the Piece

There have been many renditions and interpretations of Joe Hisaishi's Merry-Go-Round of life. But there is one exceptionally beautiful arrangement by the classically trained pianists residing in Japan who is making advanced piano arrangements of different anime openings, endings and soundtracks on YouTube since 2010 Animenz Piano Sheets.

Animenz's YouTube Channel Profile Picture

He regularly shares his knowledge of his arrangement techniques and gives his interpretation by blending classical music and his own style. ‘Unravel- Tokyo Ghoul OP [Piano]’ was the most viewed of his videos. With over 2 Million subscribers and with close to 500 million views in total. His piano arrangement on Merry-Go-Round of the Life was uploaded on YouTube on Nov 13th 2021 with 4 million views.

<Animenz's 'Merry-Go-Round of Life' Piano performance. From 'Animenz Piano Sheets' YouTube Channel.>

Animenz kept the theme of the Merry-Go-Round of Life the same as the original theme. The retelling story of Howl, from birth where the melody is simply implementing Howl, had a humble childhood. Then comes adulthood, where he becomes a wizard and is faced with the harsh reality of society; represented in the piece by his right hand with complicated octaves and multiple voicings. Then he meets Sophie, who is cursed by a witch and becomes an old woman. They begin developing romantic feelings for each other. This is symbolized by the pianist's left hand, which is playing in different harmonization in the major key. Herby Howl and Sophie, along with other interesting characters have different adventures. This part reminded Animenz of a symphonic poem called The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas. Finally, Howl starts opening his heart to Sophie. He shows his treasured secret hideout from his childhood garden; the Flower Garden to Sophie. Animenz represented this as a vulnerable stage with sorrowful piano notes in the higher register. Now, Howl continuing his life journey much more confident discovered himself, and being humble as he was a child, he sets on with great determination to go the righteous path. To convey this, Animenz used the introduction melody from the beginning to build-up music. In the end, the conclusion of both his story and this piece is with a virtuoso octave passage. The Irony, the original composer used an E6/9sus2 note, an open note, to convey to give the audience the feeling of music being continuous, Howl's story will continue.

Animenz kept the overall essence of the original piece of the waltz time, with ¾ time signature with variation arrangement. The introduction and the last have the same melody with an increased tempo similar to the original piece. He referred to the original composer's infamous soundtrack from YouTube.

Starting, with a beautiful melody in the introduction having a soft start. In Variation 1: Tempo di valse Animenz increased a bit tempo than the original. His right hand has swift moments being turbulence and chaos. In the middle of Variation 1, it slows and the now left hand is in synchronisation with the right hand. Then comes Intermezzo which is a short connection between two major phases. It was to, smoothly transition towards Variation 2 Scherzo. Variation 2: Scherzo, is a lively phase of the piece. This melody brings out joy and a high spirit like Rachmaninoff's romantic music. Variation 3: Dolcissimo was added by Animenz extremely soft, and sweet and brings out tender emotion. It brings Chopin's sensitive style. After comes the Finale, which Animenz extended his finale which was different from the original. Animenz increased his tempo from the introduction which brings a remarkable scale. The final octave spam is ineffable. The rich texture of Liszt's music was also evident throughout the piece. There were different composers' styles were incorporated throughout the variation which was very creative to bring out a bright and beautiful arrangement. The use of different composer styles brings out and motivates creating Arrangements in Animenz style.

The use of the three-hand technique with different variations is exceptionally diversified. An upbeat waltz, Merry-Go-Round from Howl's Moving Castle has an indescribable joy. He draws and inspires millions of young artists who want to be in music and feast to all music lovers.

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