Thursday, September 22, 2016

Leitmotifs in Film

You may be familiar with the term “leitmotif” in reference to a Wagner opera, but did you know that this term has been used to reference musical themes in film? This month, Clef Notes is looking at the use of music in cinema. Today, let’s look at a few examples of how leitmotifs can be used in film.

A leitmotif is a recurring musical theme that can be connected to a particular character, object, place, idea, etc. Many film composers play on this idea in their work and as a listener, it’s often fun to watch a movie, picking out these significant musical ideas. One famous example is the shark theme in the 1975 film Jaws. Film composer John Williams used this two-note motive to represent the shark’s presence, whether actually seen on camera or not. This theme’s association with the shark brilliantly adds suspense for the viewer, who knows the dangerous beast could emerge from the waters at any moment. This theme has become so famous that many people who haven’t seen the film still know its association!

Another leitmotif shows up in The Wizard of Oz (1939). This theme connects Ms. Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West musically, implying for the viewer that they are, indeed the same villain, simply taking on different personas in Dorothy’s two worlds (Kansas and Oz).

Finally, a favorite leitmotif of mine shows up in the 1983 holiday classic, A Christmas Story. Prokofiev’s “wolf” theme from Peter and the Wolf appropriately depicts the neighborhood bully Scut Farcus each time he approaches Ralphie and his friends.

Have you heard any leitmotifs in your favorite films? If so, please share what or who they represent! I’ll give you a hint: if you’ve seen Star Wars, you’ve heard leitmotifs in film, as this series is famously known for this musical trait! 

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jessica,

    I am a student at The academy of Contemporary Music, and I'm getting in touch because I read your article about Leitmotifs in Film. I am writing my dissertation on the topic Leitmotifs and I wanted to get in touch to see if you might have a chance to take a few minutes of your time to answer some interview questions for my qualitative research via email?

    I can imagine you must be very busy, so please do not feel obliged to respond.

    Thank you for your time

    Frida Feline

    6 Questions.

    1. How would you explain what a Leitmotif is?
    2. In what ways do you think a Leitmotif affect one's experience in Movies and Tv-series and what do you think is the main purpose of the Leitmotif?
    3. What is a good Leitmotif for you?
    4. What is the difference between a leitmotif and a film music theme?
    5. Can you mention one or several Leitmotif that you have noticed in movies and explain why you noticed it?
    6. Can you mention one of your favourite leitmotifs in film music?