Film Music 101: Leitmotif

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In film music (and classical music, especially opera), a leitmotif is “a short, constantly recurring musical phrase, that is associated with a particular person, place, or idea.”

The most famous user of leitmotif in 21st century Hollywood would have to be composer John Williams in the seven Star Wars scores (1977-ongoing)

(for more on the leitmotifs of Star Wars see: The Empire Strikes Back or, Everyone has a Theme! Part One: Leitmotif and “The Imperial March” and The Empire Strikes Back Part Two!: Han and Leia in Love and Yoda!! )

Leitmotifs can be found in many films, for example, in the Star Trek franchise there is a popular theme known as the “Enterprise motif,” this is the fanfare of rising fourths that occurs almost every time the Enterprise appears on the screen (this is especially true in the original series and in the Next Generation films).

The concept of leitmotif (which roughly translates to “leading motive”) predates the creation of film by several decades and is closely associated with the late-Romantic composer Richard Wagner (though Wagner did NOT invent the concept himself as some have claimed)

RichardWagner

Wagner’s operatic music had a HUGE influence on modern film music

In Wagner’s famous cycle of operas known as Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungs, aka “The Ring Cycle”), Wagner created an entire series of leitmotifs to represent specific characters or themes in the story.

For example, the hero Siegfried is represented by a leitmotif known as “Siegfried’s Horn Call,” seen here below:

Siegfried_leitmotif

Another important motif represents the god Wotan’s spear:

maxresdefault

Other motifs represent: Fire, The Rhine, The Ring, and Sleep

Whatever the context, leitmotifs are an integral part of a film score (when they are used), and they provide an interesting connection to the world of 19th century opera.

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See also:

Film Music 101: “Stinger” Chords

Film Music 101: Dubbing

Film Music 101: Diegetic vs. Non-Diegetic Music

Film Music 101: Underscore

Film Music 101: Sidelining

Film Music 101: “Test” Lyrics

Film Music 101: The First Film Score

Film Music 101: Borrowing

Film Music 101: Arranger

Film Music 101: Anempathetic sound

Film Music 101: Empathetic Sound

Film Music 101: Foley

Film Music 101: Montage

Film Music 101: Compilation Score

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14 thoughts on “Film Music 101: Leitmotif

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  3. Pingback: Film Music 101: Underscore | Film Music Central

  4. Pingback: Film Music 101: Anempathetic sound | Film Music Central

  5. Pingback: Film Music 101: Empathetic Sound | Film Music Central

  6. Pingback: Film Music 101: Diegetic vs. Non-Diegetic Music | Film Music Central

  7. Pingback: Film Music 101: Sidelining | Film Music Central

  8. Pingback: Film Music 101: Borrowing | Film Music Central

  9. Pingback: Film Music 101: Dubbing | Film Music Central

  10. Pingback: Film Music 101: “Stinger” Chords | Film Music Central

  11. Pingback: Film Music 101: “Test” Lyrics | Film Music Central

  12. Pingback: The Empire Strikes Back or, Everyone has a Theme! Part One: Leitmotif and "The Imperial March" | Film Music Central

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