Leitmotif  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A leitmotif (also leitmotiv; lit. "leading motif") is a recurring musical theme, associated within a particular piece of music with a particular person, place or idea. The word has also been used by extension to mean any sort of recurring theme, whether in music, literature, or the life of a fictional character or a real person.

Although usually a short melody, it can also be a chord progression or even a simple rhythm. Leitmotifs can help to bind a work together into a coherent whole, and also enable the composer to relate a story without the use of words, or to add an extra level to an already present story.

The word is usually used when talking about dramatic works, especially operas, although leitmotifs are also used in other musical genres, such as instrumental pieces, cinema, and video game music.

The word itself has a mixed etymology, as a further meaning to the German word Motiv was borrowed in the 18th century from the French motif, meaning "motive" or "theme", while the German word Motiv itself can be traced back to the 16th century, meaning only "motive" (cf. Latin motivus). Prefixing it with leit- (coming from the German leiten, "to lead"), produces Leitmotiv (German plural: Leitmotive), meaning "leading motif".

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Leitmotif" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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