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, 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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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 ?
His identification of Herrmann's leitmotiv technique traces notable appearances and transformations of the theme that seemingly first appears in the cue "Madeline" (sic; Herrmann's misspelling), where the character Scotty first spies Madeleine in a restaurant.
Whereas Mime, Siegfried's opposite, is given a melody consisting of small intervals, and his simple song ("Als zullendes Kind") is based on Jewish chant, Siegfried's leitmotiv starts with the ascending interval of a fourth, followed by a triad.
What is particularly enlightening, concerning the analysis of Brunnhulde's character, is what Wolzogen has described as the "leitmotiv of release" that dominates her final song.
The most apparent leitmotiv, the repetition of the phrase "this eye that looks at me sees ...," stresses the duality between the candid observations of the growing child and the awareness of the mature writer who assembles them and obviates their inner meaning through artistic form.
Knaus adds only a few comments on how Strauss's 1934 revision of Guntram reinforces the libretto, before turning to a more generalized discussion of Strauss's leitmotiv technique in comparison to Wagner's.
Contrapuntal music and a popularized version of chaos theory are leitmotivs in the novel, the former to represent the repetitive nature of history (and Lambkin's narrative technique), the latter as a way of making plausible the nonrational phenomena that are the realm of witchcraft and mysticism.
While the tension between individual memory and official history is the backdrop behind every episode, it is irony and liminality that become the leitmotivs of the characters resurrected in Hernan's mind.
On the other hand, the voices Quentin hears, leitmotivs such as "Eye contact has been my downfall," and the blackouts all point to other factors.
Particularly impressive is the balance between complexity and serenity, the superior use of leitmotivs, and the alternating between various time levels.
Already the poem's second line, "It was an error," resounds like a leitmotiv throughout the text, stressing that any notion of an inherent value in artistic expression is illusory.
Leitmotivs of ordinariness, an insistence on commonplace events, and average character have been the hallmark, since naturalism, of what constitutes up-to-date modernity and literary quality in twentieth-century Unterhaltungsliteratur (entertainment literature).
The exquisite sense of humor that pervades some of the pieces does not conflict with the seriousness of his apparent intention to produce modern "interpretations" of some Poesque themes and leitmotivs, but rather reinforces a quality of ironic concentration.