(redirected from Leitmotifs)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.
Related to Leitmotifs: leitmotiv


, leitmotiv
1. Music a recurring short melodic phrase or theme used, esp in Wagnerian music dramas, to suggest a character, thing, etc.
2. an often repeated word, phrase, image, or theme in a literary work
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a musical figure—a motif, a phrase, an entire theme (rarely), or a progression of harmony—that is stated repeatedly as a representational device in a composition. A leitmotif is usually intended to characterize or illustrate a particular personage, subject, situation, idea, phenomenon, or emotion.

Nineteenth-century composers used the leitmotif principle on a wide scale in opera, ballet, and instrumental program music. In his late operas R. Wagner based the musical and dramatic development on a complex system of leitmotifs. The Russian classical composers Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky used the leitmotif in an artistically convincing way but combined it with other musical principles; thus the leitmotif was not as central to their music as it is to Wagner’s.

The leitmotif has retained its importance in 20th-century music—for example, in Prokofiev’s operas and ballets. Motion-picture scores rely heavily on the principle.

Literary analysis frequently turns to the concept of the leitmotif—a representational figure that is repeated in a work as a constant attribute of a character, mood, or situation. Appearing repeatedly, often with modification, the leitmotif grows in associations and acquires an ideological, psychological, or symbolic depth. For example, the noise of a watchman’s rattle in Chekhov’s novella The Bride is transformed into a symbol for the monotony and dullness of philistine life; simultaneously it underscores the changes in the heroine’s attitudes. In poetry, there are also leitmotifs of sound, rhythm, and intonation.

The term “leitmotif” has also come to have a broader common meaning, which defines, for example, the dominant theme in a person’s activity or in a chain of events.


Wagner, R. “0 primenenii muzyki k drame.” In Izbr. stati Moscow, 1935.
Druskin, M. S. Voprosy muzykal’noi dramaturgii opery. Leningrad, 1952. Iarustovskii, B. M. Dramaturgiia russkoi opernoi klassiki. Moscow, 1953.
Rimsky-Korsakov, N. A. “‘Snegurochka’—vesenniaia skazka.” Poln. sobr. sock, vol. IV. Moscow, 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Throughout this chapter, Audissino's analysis of the shark's theme, as well as examples of Mickey Mousing, leitmotifs, and a rich romantic string sound all further reinforce Williams's early neoclassic beginnings.
In Coppola's free transformation of Conrad's novella, the metaphoric use of visual leitmotifs and of colours gives the two works a similar meaning, even though they are set in different times and superficially tell rather different stories.
I will, however, highlight a few leitmotifs in her interpretation (which I found generally convincing) of how suicide was made meaningful.
Secondly he sets up a different leitmotif for each book.
The text then moves to an attempt at synthesizing the rive leitmotifs, each of which, in Philipse's estimate, fail to provide a coherent and unifying account of Heidegger's entire body of work.
In this book, Jerusalem advocate Cohen analyzes phases and leitmotifs in Spanish history, from the age of the Visigoths to the legacy of the Spanish Civil War, and predicts that Spain will become a constructive component of the European national identity.
The editors helpfully identify a few leitmotifs that recur throughout the book, emphasizing especially the idea of Zersetzung or 'destabilization'.
"Chris Burden: Early Work" played these leitmotifs for all they're worth, and the result was a representational field as concretely public space where masochism and sadism were virtually indistinguishable.
Its well-chosen one-liners from notable minds become leitmotifs: Spinoza's "The love of God is joy at the thought of God"; Augustine's "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee"; Heidegger's "Time is the possible horizon for any understanding whatsoever of Being."
Kern Holoman provide brief statements about the action and the leitmotifs as they appear.
Thematically, Chacel appliques intertexts from painting, music, poetry, and myth upon her narrative, integrating them as leitmotifs and as a means to gauge and evaluate the relationships between the girls' personal and professional identities as artists.
A scholar of American literature, until recently at the University of South Carolina, Horton argues that American novelist William Faulkner (1897-1962) borrowed characters, plots, names, themes, leitmotifs, and even literary organization for his The Manor from French writer Honore de Balzac's (1799-1850) La Comedie humaine.