A Short Musical Idea is Called

A Short Musical Idea is Called

Short, constantly recurring musical phrase

() is a “short, recurring musical phrase”[2]
associated with a particular person, place, or idea. It is closely related to the musical concepts of
idée fixe
The spelling
is an anglicization of the German

[ˈlaɪtmoˌtiːf]), literally meaning “leading motif”, or “guiding motif”. A musical motif has been defined as a “curt musical thought … melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic, or all three”,[i]
a salient recurring figure, musical fragment or succession of notes that has some special importance in or is characteristic of a limerick: “the smallest structural unit possessing thematic identity.”[3]

In particular, such a motif should be “clearly identified then every bit to retain its identity if modified on subsequent appearances” whether such modification be in terms of rhythm, harmony, orchestration or accompaniment. Information technology may besides be “combined with other leitmotifs to suggest a new dramatic condition” or development.[ane]
The technique is notably associated with the operas of Richard Wagner, and most peculiarly his
Der Band des Nibelungen, although he was not its originator and did not employ the give-and-take in connexion with his piece of work.

Although usually a short melody, it can also be a chord progression or even a simple rhythm. Leitmotifs can help to bind a work together into a coherent whole, and too enable the composer to chronicle a story without the employ of words, or to add an extra level to an already present story.

By association, the word has as well been used to mean whatsoever sort of recurring theme (whether or not bailiwick to developmental transformation) in literature, or (metaphorically) the life of a fictional character or a real person. It is sometimes also used in give-and-take of other musical genres, such equally instrumental pieces, movie theatre, and video game music, sometimes interchangeably with the more general category of

Classical music


Early instances in classical music


The utilize of feature, short, recurring motifs in orchestral music tin can exist traced back to the early seventeenth century, such as
by Monteverdi. In French opera of the late eighteenth century (such equally the works of Gluck, Grétry and Méhul), “reminiscence motif” can be identified, which may recur at a significant juncture in the plot to plant an association with earlier events. Their use, even so, is not all-encompassing or systematic. The power of the technique was exploited early on in the nineteenth century by composers of Romantic opera, such every bit Carl Maria von Weber, where recurring themes or ideas were sometimes used in association with specific characters (e.one thousand. Samiel in
Der Freischütz
is coupled with the chord of a diminished seventh).[2]
The first use of the discussion
in impress was by the critic Friedrich Wilhelm Jähns in describing Weber’s work, although this was not until 1871.[1]

Motifs also figured occasionally in purely instrumental music of the Romantic period. The related idea of the musical
idée fixe
was coined by Hector Berlioz in reference to his
Symphonie fantastique
(1830). This purely instrumental, programmatic piece of work (subtitled
Episode in the Life of an Artist … in Five Sections) features a recurring melody representing the object of the artist’south obsessive affection and depicting her presence in various real and imagined situations.

Though perhaps not corresponding to the strict definition of leitmotif, several of Verdi’southward operas feature like thematic tunes, often introduced in the overtures or preludes, and recurring to mark the presence of a character or to invoke a detail sentiment. In
La forza del destino, the opening theme of the overture recurs whenever Leonora feels guilt or fright. In
Il trovatore, the theme of the outset aria by Azucena is repeated whenever she invokes the horror of how her mother was burnt alive and the devastating revenge she attempted then. In
Don Carlos, there are at least three leitmotifs that recur regularly across the five acts: the offset is associated with the poverty and suffering from war, the second is associated with prayers around the tomb of Carlos 5, and the third is introduced as a duet betwixt Don Carlo and the Marquis of Posa, thereafter accentuating sentiments of sincere friendship and loyalty.



A more sinister version of the horn call motif, articulated as a half-diminished seventh arpeggio, “music of dark strength and magnificence,” occurs in “Hagen’s Scout” towards the end of Act i of
Götterdämmerung. Hagen, who eventually murders Siegfried, contemplates ways of using the benighted hero to farther his own ends.[four]

Richard Wagner is the earliest composer nigh specifically associated with the concept of leitmotif. His cycle of iv operas,
Der Ring des Nibelungen
(the music for which was written between 1853 and 1869), uses hundreds of leitmotifs, often related to specific characters, things, or situations. While some of these leitmotifs occur in only i of the operas, many recur throughout the unabridged cycle.[5]
Wagner had raised the event of how music could best unite disparate elements of the plot of a music drama in his essay
Opera and Drama
(1851); the leitmotif technique corresponds to this ideal.[vii]

Some controversy surrounded the use of the word in Wagner’southward ain circle: Wagner never authorised the use of the word
leitmotiv, using words such as
(bones idea), or merely
Motiv. His preferred name for the technique was
(primary motif), which he first used in 1877;[2]
the but time he used the discussion
Leitmotiv, he referred to “and then-called Leitmotivs”.

The word gained currency with the overly literal interpretations of Wagner’due south music by Hans von Wolzogen, who in 1876 published a
(guide or manual) to the
Band. In information technology he claimed to take isolated and named all of the recurring motifs in the wheel (the motif of “Servitude”, the “Spear” or “Treaty” motif, etc.), often leading to absurdities or contradictions with Wagner’s actual practice.[8]
Some of the motifs he identified began to announced in the published musical scores of the operas, arousing Wagner’southward annoyance; his wife Cosima Wagner quoted him equally saying “People will retrieve all this nonsense is done at my request!”.[9]
In fact Wagner himself never publicly named any of his leitmotifs, preferring to emphasize their flexibility of association, role in the musical grade, and emotional effect. The practice of naming leitmotifs nevertheless connected, featuring in the piece of work of prominent Wagnerian critics Ernest Newman, Deryck Cooke and Robert Donington.[4]

The resulting lists of leitmotifs also attracted the ridicule of anti-Wagnerian critics and composers (such equally Eduard Hanslick, Claude Debussy, and Igor Stravinsky). They identified the motif with Wagner’south own approach to composing, mocking the impression of a musical “address book” or list of “cloakroom numbers” it created.

However, afterwards commentators have defended Wagner’s use of the leitmotif. According to Pierre Boulez, “Wagner’s was the first music in which forms never return literally, are never repeated. As the music progresses, it carries all the thematic elements with it, linking them in new ways, placing them in dissimilar relations to each other, showing them in unfamiliar lights and giving them unexpected meanings.” Boulez adds: “Leitmotivs
are in fact annihilation but the traffic signals to which they have been mistakenly compared, for they have a double virtue – both poetic and dramatic, equally well every bit formal. They are essential to the structure of both music and drama as well as to the dissimilar characters and situations. Their evolution is a kind of ‘fourth dimension-weave’, an integrating of past and present; and they as well imply dramatic progression.”[10]

After Wagner


The leitmotif associated with Salome herself in Richard Strauss’s opera

Since Wagner, the utilize of leitmotifs has been taken up past many other composers. Richard Strauss used the device in many of his operas and several of his symphonic poems. Despite his sometimes acerbic comments on Wagner, Claude Debussy utilized leitmotifs in his opera
Pelléas et Mélisande
(1902). Arnold Schoenberg used a complex set up of leitmotifs in his choral work
(completed 1911). Alban Berg’s opera
(1914–1922) also utilizes leitmotifs.[one]
The leitmotif was likewise a major feature of the opera
The Immortal Hour
by the English composer Rutland Boughton. His constantly recurrent, memorably tuneful leitmotifs contributed significantly to the widespread popularity of the opera. In Prokofiev’s
Peter And The Wolf
(1936) each character or fauna has its own leitmotif played on a detail instrument.

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Critique of the leitmotif concept


The critic Theodor W. Adorno, in his volume
In Search of Wagner
(written in the 1930s), expresses the stance that the entire concept of the leitmotif is flawed. The motif cannot be both the bearer of expression and a musical “gesture”, because that reduces emotional content to a mechanical procedure. He notes that “even in Wagner’s own twenty-four hours the public made a crude link betwixt the leitmotifs and the persons they characterised” because people’due south innate mental processes did not necessarily correspond with Wagner’due south subtle intentions or optimistic expectations. He continues:

The degeneration of the leitmotiv is implicit in this … it leads directly to cinema music where the sole function of the leitmotif is to denote heroes or situations so as to allow the audience to orient itself more easily.[11]



The main ideology behind leitmotif is to create a sense of attachment to that particular sound that evokes audiences to feel particular emotions when that sound is repeated through the film. Leitmotifs in Adorno’s “degenerated” sense frequently occur in motion-picture show scores, and have since the early decades of audio film. I of the first people to implement leitmotif in early sound films was Fritz Lang in his revolutionary hitting
Chiliad. Lang set the criterion for audio film through his apply of leitmotif, creating a different type of temper in his films.[
commendation needed

  • In the film
    (1960), composer Bernard Herrmann created a 3 note leitmotif that is get-go heard when Norman Bates covers upward the murder of Marion Crane committed by his “mother” and can be heard throughout the film in certain scenes involving both Norman and/or his Mother. John Williams would later pay tribute to Herrmann by using a similar iii note leitmotif in
    Star Wars: Episode Four – A New Hope
    (1977) when Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, and Chewbacca emerge from the Millennium Falcon’s smuggling compartments.[
    citation needed
  • In the
    franchise, the master “shark” theme, composed by John Williams in 1975, stands out as a suspenseful motif that is a uncomplicated alternating design of two notes, E and F.[12]
  • In the first
    Star Wars
    film in 1977, John Williams used a big number of themes specifically associated with people and concepts, and he would expand upon this concept for the post-obit films of the original trilogy (for case, a particular motif is attached to the presence of Darth Vader, another to the concept of the Death Star, and some other to the concept of the Force). Williams would later revisit this material for the prequel trilogy starting in 1999, so again for the sequel trilogy starting in 2015, each time crafting new themes while incorporating the onetime. Other composers would utilize some of Williams’ iconic leitmotifs in spin-off material.[13]
  • In the 1989 moving picture
    Batman, Danny Elfman equanimous the heroic theme for the titular character, which is also used in the later film.[14]
  • In
    (1997), composer James Horner used a number of recurring leitmotifs that are associated with the film’due south romance, tragedy and the disaster.[15]
  • John Williams equanimous the music for the first iii
    Harry Potter
    movies starting in 2001, and leitmotifs are prominently utilized to represent specific characters, feelings, and locations, most notably the track entitled Hedwig’s Theme. While Williams did not score the residue of the franchise, this theme would consistently return in the scores of later composers Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper, Alexandre Desplat, and James Newton Howard as they worked on the final films and spin-offs.[16]
  • In
    The Lord of the Rings
    film series starting in 2001, composer Howard Shore prominently utilizes a vast amount of interconnecting leitmotifs to convey the ideas supporting specific characters, locations, and overall landscape of Heart-globe. His score is noteworthy because in that location is no singular “master theme” for the series, only a selection of several could hold this title, including the themes for the Fellowship, the Ring of Power, Lothlórien, the Shire, Isengard, Mordor, Rohan, and Gondor. Variations in these themes convey the changes that occur to the corresponding subjects throughout the trilogy. For the prequel
    trilogy starting in 2012, Shore revisits some of these themes while introducing new leitmotifs for some of the new characters,[17]
    and is expected to do so again for the bear witness
    The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Ability
    alongside Comport McCreary.[18]
  • Composed by Hans Zimmer, Klaus Badelt, and Geoff Zanelli, the
    Pirates of the Caribbean area
    film series consists of several motifs and themes associated with the protagonists, villains and moods starting in 2003. One prominent motif is “He’s a Pirate”, which is associated with pirates in general and the heroic activeness sequences they are involved in. Also the general leitmotifs, specific characters such as Jack Sparrow, Davy Jones, Angelica, and Salazar each accept their own unique motifs.[19]
  • The Dark Knight
    trilogy features several recurring themes and motifs for Batman, the villainous characters, and activity scenes composed past Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard starting in 2005.[20]
  • While the Curiosity Cinematic Universe has been criticized for its lack of iconic leitmotifs across its e’er-expanding repertoire of films and shows, 2 recurring themes are prominently featured peculiarly towards the end of Phase Three: Alan Silvestri’due south theme for the Avengers team and Ludwig Göransson’s theme for the Wakanda setting.[21]
  • Premiering in 2015,
    Hamilton: An American Musical
    uses several leitmotifs throughout to introduce characters and reinforce connections, composed and written primarily by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Nearly all characters accept a trademark leitmotif; for example, the way the main graphic symbol Alexander Hamilton sings his name.[22]
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Meet also


  • Image vocal
  • Motif (music)
  • Motif (literature)
  • Motif (art)
  • Ostinato
  • Theme music



  1. ^






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  4. ^



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    A Brusque History of Opera
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    The Wagner Companion. London: Cambridge Academy Press. pp. 345–346. ISBN0-571-11450-4.

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    Richard Wagner and His Globe. Princeton: Princeton University Printing. ISBN978-0-571-11450-4.

  9. ^

    Wagner, Cosima (1978) [1878-1883]. Gregor-Dellin, Martin; Mack, Deitrich (eds.).
    Cosima Wagner’s Diaries. Vol. 2. Translated past Skelton, Geoffrey. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN978-0151226368.

  10. ^

    Boulez, Pierre (1990). Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (ed.).
    Orientations: Nerveless Writings. Translated by Cooper, Martin. Harvard University Press. p. 251. ISBN978-0674643765.

  11. ^

    Adorno, Theodor (2009) [1952].
    In Search of Wagner. Translated by Livingstone, Rodney. London: Verso. ISBN978-1844673445.

  12. ^

    Matessino, Michael (24 September 1999). “Letter in response to “A Study of Jaws’ Incisive Overture To Shut Off the Century”“. filmscoremonthly.com. Archived from the original on 17 October 2006. Retrieved
    17 Dec

  13. ^

    Ross, Alex (3 January 2018). “A Field Guide to the Musical Leitmotifs of “Star Wars”“.
    The New Yorker
    . Retrieved
    eleven Baronial

    {{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

  14. ^

    Doerschuk, Robert 50. (October 1989). “Danny Elfman – The Agony & The Ectasy of Scoring Batman”.
    Keyboard. Vol. fifteen, no. 10. GPI Publications. pp. 82–95. Retrieved
    12 January

  15. ^

    “James Horner – Titanic”. Mfiles. Retrieved
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  16. ^

    Roberts, Maddy Shaw (8 September 2020). “Harry Potter soundtrack: ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ and everything to know nearly the moving-picture show franchise’s magical score”.
    Classic FM
    . Retrieved
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    {{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-condition (link)

  17. ^

    Keane, Paul (5 August 2021). “Howard Shore in The Lord of The Rings: How to use leitmotif technique to create a masterpiece?”.
    . Retrieved
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    {{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-condition (link)

  18. ^

    Makuch, Eddie (21 July 2022). “LOTR’s Howard Shore Returns For The Rings Of Ability, Aslope God Of War Composer”.
    . Retrieved
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  19. ^

    Schweiger, Daniel (16 May 2011). “Audio: On The Score With Hans Zimmer”. Film Music Magazine. Retrieved
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    D., Spence (13 June 2005). “Batman Vs. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard Part 2”.
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  21. ^

    Reynolds, Jeremy (ix May 2018). “Here’s why the music in Marvel superhero movies is so forgettable”.
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
    . Retrieved
    26 July

    {{cite spider web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

  22. ^

    “Hamilton and Leitmotif”.
    Tumblr. 12 August 2016. Retrieved
    10 June

A Short Musical Idea is Called

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leitmotif