Playing the Heart Strings
Where the drama/violence/awesome is too much for real sound or even sound effects to convey. The soundtrack is reduced in volume, and/or muffled, or even muted altogether.
Except for the strings.
A string section plays a mournful piece, usually built around subtle chord progression. The peaceful yet haunting sound provides dissonance with the image, and yet this dissonance echoes the conflict on the screen. Often used to accompany a dramatic death, or a climactic battle, especially if the fighting is between people who should normally be friends.
Easily parodied, as there are many well known pieces of music that could be used to produce this trope.
Compare with One-Woman Wail
, which is often used in the same way. See also Lonely Piano Piece
. See Mood Motif
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Platoon. Sgt. Elias' death scene used Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. See it on YouTube, starting at 2:00. The piece is used at several other points in the film.
- The Lord of the Rings features this on a Norwegian fiddle, especially when the riders of Rohan join a battle.
- Harry Potter:
- Order of the Phoenix does this, after Sirius' death.
- The Half Blood Prince also has a go.
- Deathly Hallows Part 2 also has a bit of an attempt, and this one works wonders. The song Courtyard Apocalypse is played as the trio fight their way through the Hogwarts courtyard, and they see some pretty vicious stuff. The sound is slightly muted, but it is noticeable.
- In 2009 Sherlock Holmes film, Watson gets one of these when caught in an explosion.
- Used in the first Spider-Man movie when Peter comes home to Aunt May after Uncle Ben's death.
- The Departed as Queenan is tossed off the building in slow-motion.
- In the 2009 Star Trek, This is the music that plays during the opening Curb-Stomp Battle / Heroic Sacrifice.
- In Three Kingdoms, Phoenix Heights battle between the Zhao and Cao's top commanders, the dramatic strings with bass beats are diegetic; Cao Ying herself plays the zither while her soldiers beat the drums. A few other times Cao plays to unnerve the defenders, and it works, since even Zhao finds her sinister.
- The ten-minute finale of Michael Mann's 1992 adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans plays this trope for all it is worth, as seen here.
- "The End" from United 93 is pretty much this trope in its pure, distilled form.
- Used several times in Casualties of War. This is the best example (starts around the halfway mark).
- Danny Elfman's score for The Wolfman (2010) makes very good use of the strings, probably as a subtle Shout-Out to the original score.
- The Granada adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes adventure "The Final Problem" has a sorrowful violin piece accompanying Holmes and Moriarty's plunge into Reichenbach Falls. That said, this whole series made good use of violins in the opening theme and the rest of the soundtrack, since Holmes plays the violin himself.
- Doctor Who:
- As the Doctor is dragged into the Pandorica, struggling and terrified, only the triumphant strings can be heard.
- Way back in series 2, they decided to subvert this in favour of the One-Woman Wail. Lampshaded on Doctor Who Confidential.
- Rimmer's possibly-death-scene gets this treatment in the last episode of Red Dwarf's Series VIII.
- Abed and Shirley's outro in Community episode Modern Warfare.
- In Season 9 of How I Met Your Mother, Barber's Adagio for Strings plays when Marshall nearly delivers the seventh slap onto Barney, in slow motion.
- Season 5's "Jenkins" uses the same piece when Robin turns the tables on Ted's class's drinking game, and during the resulting hangover.
- Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, one of the saddest, most moving pieces of music out there, fits this trope to a T. Among other things, it was used to commemorate the death of Roosevelt and the Twin Tower bombings.
- The song "Harder To Believe Than Not To" on Steve Taylor's album I Predict 1990 is played entirely in this fashion, giving it a very mournful feeling.
- The Cruxshadows use an electric violin in many of their songs.
- Garbage's "Happy Home" uses this to make their usual Downer Ending ballad even more depressing.
- The finale of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 9 is a string-dominated slow movement with sad melodies and anguished harmonies. The final page of the score, in particular, has only strings playing very slowly and quietly, with the operative performance direction being ersterbend (dying away). Leonard Bernstein described this ending as "the closest we have ever come, in any work of art, to experiencing the very act of dying... It is terrifying, and paralyzing, as the last strands of sound disintegrate."
- "Åse's Death" from Peer Gynt. Peer continues talking when muted strings play this piece quietly during his mother's death scene, ironically oblivious in her dying moments as he tells her a wild tale.
- "Billy's Death" from the ballet Billy the Kid.
- Halo series:
- Sgt. Johnson's death in Halo 3.
- The last part of "Delta Halo Suite" in Halo 2, which is a strings version of "Heavy Price Paid".
- "Rue and Woe" of 2's "High Charity Suite", reused for Miranda's death in Halo 3, is a prime example, as is the solemn strings in "Respite".
- Halo: Combat Evolved's "Dust & Echoes" / Halo 3's "Wake Me When you Need Me"
- The second part of "Ashes" from Halo: Reach uses it alongside a lonely piano.
- Halo 4 has this in "Green and Blue", during Cortana's death cutscene.
- The awakening and death of Edge's parents in Final Fantasy IV, after they had been turned into mindless monsters by Mad Scientist Lugae.
- Aerith's death in Final Fantasy VII, and the battle against JENOVA immediately after, are set to Aerith's Theme.
- Mass Effect 2 features a brief cello line repeated as a leitmotif symbolizing loss.
- "True" and "Theme of Laura Reprise" from Silent Hill 2 use both this and Lonely Piano Piece.
- The World 1 background music from Super Mario Galaxy 2.
- The intro of Castlevania 64.
- The background music to Yormgen from Tales of Vesperia.
- Fallout: New Vegas plays somber Ennio Morricone-style strings near Goodsprings, Crimson Caravan Company, and a few other locations, as well as the during the credits.
- "Tragedy", which plays during sad scenes in no-one has to die.. Especially prevalent in the final level, where it plays in place of the normal background music.
- The ending theme of I Miss the Sunrise, "Everything", which plays uninterrupted throughout the entire ending sequence.
- Both played straight briefly and parodied in the original version of Stage 6 of Um Jammer Lammy: first, when Lammy is killed in a Banana Peel accident and her black-and-white soul Ascends to a Higher Plane of Existence... sort of; and then, when Lammy laments her own death in hell, "Parappa's End Roll in G Minor" plays briefly during the fake end credits... right before Jack Smash appears and stops the credits before taking her away to Teriyaki Yoko. (The full version of the sad-string song can be heard in the original soundtrack, though.)
- Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne and Max Payne 3 both feature a melancholy strings arrangement of the first game's main theme.
- Shows up several times in The Last of Us, most notably during the sequence after Joel has grabbed Ellie and is trying to escape the hospital. The particular piece of score used is found in the last minute and a half of All Gone (No Escape).
- Batman: Arkham City: "A Rose for Respect", played when you look at the rose and pause for a few minutes of silence, uninterrupted.
- Final Fantasy XIII-2: Serah's Theme becomes this (after a solo-piano opening). It plays many times, but most notable is the scene where she and Lightning reunite, right after Serah dies. It's almost entirely silent except for the music and Serah's pleas for Lightning to remember her.
- Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Drowns out most of the sounds while a slow, tearful melody plays when you swim back to your ship after Blackbeard's death.
- Blue Planet: War in Heaven cuts the sound effects and plays a mournful viola and cello piece when the UEFg Yangtze makes its last, suicidal stand against the GTD Imperieuse.
- Skies of Arcadia: Legend, which gradually builds up to a rearrangement of part of the main theme
- Ending of the Starry Sky from Silhouette Mirage.
- In Ori and the Blind Forest, prior to the restoration of the Element of Waters, the Thornfelt Swamp has a somber cello soundtrack along with lonely piano.
- "Hero of the Past" from Bionic Commando 2009 is a sad strings arrangement of "Heat Wave" (Area 5) from the NES game and its remake.
- Aurora's theme from Child of Light.
- Played to good effect near the conclusion of Red vs. Blue season 10 when York and Carolina are forced to fight one another as The Mother Of Invention crashes into the planet below.