leitmotif

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leitmotif

, 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

Leitmotif

 

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.

REFERENCES

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.

G. V. KRAUKLIS

References in periodicals archive ?
"Ditka." But there is also a great deal of French seasoning to spice up the narration--not only in the vocabulary; as in "idee fixe" above, but also in the French cultural frames of reference, like Proust, Stendhal, and Pascal.
His belief is in this case what we might call an idee fixe. An idee fixe is a belief that is not affected by the subject's own recognition of evidence against it; it is held even when the subject comes to believe considerations against what the idee fixe says is true.
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But if one isn't a conservative by the time one is 30, there is something wrong with one's head" Rove was a born political conservative and with him it was an idee fixe.
Paoli has shrewdly chosen an idee fixe which unites Alberti's seemingly disparate oeuvre, which he divides generally into moral works, artistic treatises, and ludic writings.
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Henry James and the Language of Experience occasionally veers towards crossing the thin line between offering a telling juxtaposition of James's corpus and one hermeneutic spin among many, and the disabling application of an idee fixe.
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His new cantos may not pivot around an idee fixe, but they do show, with haunting precision, the shared cost that accuser and accused must pay: