Whoosh! Issue
20 - May 1998


IAXS project #004
By Carolyn Bremer
Copyright © 1998 held by author
872 words

Defining the Show (01-05)
Defining the Characters (06-09)

Duality And Completeness:
An Analysis Of The Xena: Warrior Princess Theme Music

Defining the Show

Yiyiyiyi..yaaawnnnnn..I need
a new battle cry.

Xena: Warrior Princess

[01] Noted composer Joseph LoDuca has written theme music for Xena: Warrior Princess which embodies the defining principles -- duality and completeness -- of the show's major characters. The seemingly contradictory qualities of light and dark, feminine and masculine, patriarchal and matriarchal, and ancient and modern society are represented symbolically in the music. In the one minute and eight second theme, LoDuca also fulfills the commercially necessary element: a distinctive, catchy tune which uniquely identifies the show, even in very tiny snippets.

[02] The opening exotic bagpipe, sweeping up an uneven glissando from tonic to dominant, engenders the duality of Western and non-Western music. But the Western tonal language, so clearly demarcated by the harmonic structure, is undermined by the eclectic timbre of the bagpipe and its ornamentation of each diatonic note descending back to the E minor tonic.

[03] An aggressive, asymmetrical drumming pattern introduces the theme proper. The ostinato, in quick 7/8, (2+2+3), reveals an archaic symbology, one with ties to a piece we have come to associate most closely with primal culture, The Rite Of Spring by Igor Stravinsky. Articulated drums imbue power into LoDuca's theme by enunciating the accents of the 2+2+3 pattern, ultimately driving toward the entrance of the melody with three eighth notes as an anacrusis to the downbeat (see example 1, drum pattern).

This is when my coffee table
substitutes as a bass drum

Example 1. The Drum Pattern

[04] Rather than relying on the more traditional setting of beginning the melody on either an upbeat or downbeat, LoDuca delays the entrance, syncopating the melody and giving it even more drive on top of the drum pattern (see example 2, rhythmic theme). With a three-note motive superimposed over a three-beat rhythmic pattern, the theme becomes identifiable in just two or three seconds, a desirable quality in television and an extraordinarily difficult aspect to achieve.

Gabrielle first launched into
this on her pan pipes

Example 2. The Rhythmic Theme

[05] A harmonic shift to the subdominant A pedal allows LoDuca to repeat the theme, solidifying it in our memories and implying an eventual return to the tonic chord. But LoDuca outwits us by ambiguously resolving to F major, a third-related modulation common in the works of Chopin and Schubert, and also flavors of A minor to introduce a contrasting theme, the soaring melody in the violins (see example 3, lyrical theme).

As performed by the Amphipolis

Example 3. The Lyrical Theme
Click on the graphic to see a larger version.

Defining the Characters

[06] The oppositional categories evident in the whole theme, the obtrusive energy over the E minor pedal and the expansive melody in F major / A minor, unfolds aspects of the feminine and masculine as contained within character of Xena, articulated by the voice-over as "the power" and "the passion". This discourse of the feminine, a strong warrior woman, combines elements of power and passion into a new symbology; seemingly disparate elements come into focus within the realm of the entire character, the sophisticated, complex, and alluring female warrior.

[07] Transference of half of this duality to inform the character of Gabrielle offers a second and perhaps more revealing exemplification of the bard's ameliorating effect on the dark warrior. It is the linear narration of one needing the other, of two halves of a whole which have attracted such attention to the series. Two strong female persona are portrayed as requiring one another's friendship and support to grow and mature as humans. So many characters on television become stale after a time, and it is to the producers' credit that neither Xena nor Gabrielle has been allowed to become stereotyped. The conflicts within them and between them are presented as wholly human characteristics, a refreshing commodity on television.

Here, now...if you put it like
this, it won't keep popping out.

A rare moment during the opening title sequence where Xena and Gabrielle are together. Wait a sec...that's Lila, Gabrielle's sister. Are Gabrielle and Xena ever together in the opening credits?

[08] As with the characters -- the entirety of each dependent on disparate, separate parts, and the entirety of the show dependent on the very different Xena and Gabrielle -- LoDuca's theme music has two discrete sections which meld one into one another, which individually remain incomplete without the other. The amount of dissimilarity between the two themes is significant and unusual. One relies on a rhythmic ostinato, the other does not; one is asymmetrical (in 7/8), the other is in 4/4 (or common time); one stays within a very narrow range of a minor third later transposed up by a fourth, the other encompasses an octave plus a fifth; one is colored by brass, percussion, and voices, the other is focused on strings and has no text or voices; one uses but two chords, the other integrates a more typical harmonic progression; one uses only three closely-related rhythmic values of eighth, quarter, and dotted quarter, the other ranges from quick embellishments to whole notes.

[09] Why is it sung in Bulgarian? Has there ever been another American television theme song not sung in English? It's an extraordinarily risky venture to put on television something that over 99% of the audience will not understand. But we do understand it without a translation, because the music so clearly defines the character of Xena, we can guess the text's meaning and it is enough. That we cannot know the meaning for certain is a quality we share with the characterization of Xena. She is too complicated to be described easily, and though we believe we know how she might react, she doesn't always act predictably. Again, a uniquely human element present in the show that is so often forgotten elsewhere on television, and it is perfectly reflected in LoDuca's theme music.

Take that! And
that...and...D*mn! Already dead...

Xena, in shish-kabob mode, from the opening title sequence.


Carolyn Bremer Carolyn Bremer
Carolyn Bremer has been dubbed a composer "driven by hobgoblins of post modernist cant", and an "unpredictable extension of Brahms". She came to composition somewhat late-at the age of 24-on the heels of intensive training as an orchestral bassist. As of late, she has come to regard the questions raised in issue-oriented, experimental and political music, and aesthetics as central to her work.

Her catalogue contains works based on feminism ("She Who"), the Clarence Thomas Confirmation Hearings ("I Have a Nightmare"), a feminist reading of the Demeter / Persephone myth ("The Kore"), an AIDS-related death of a childhood friend ("Not a Witness") and a deconstruction of American society for computer-generated slides, electronics, and live amplified bubble wrap ("It Makes Me Nervewracking"). Her works have been featured at major festivals including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the UN Conference on Women's Rights in Beijing, and MusicAlaskaWomen Festival. In 1997, she was invited as a plenary speaker at the National Women's Studies Conference in St. Louis.

Ms. Bremer studied at the Eastman School of Music, CalArts, and received the Ph.D. in composition from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Currently she is head of the composition program at the University of Oklahoma where she directs the New Century Ensembles and holds the Sandra and Brian O'Brien Presidential Professorship in Music. Ms. Bremer has an exclusive contract with music publisher Carl Fischer, Inc. and is recorded on Klavier and CRS.

Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) and THE PRICE (44/220)
Favorite line: Picking a favorite line out of the plethora of deserving candidates is utterly impossible.
First episode seen:
Least favorite episode: FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216). Why be different from everyone else?

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