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[lahyt-moh-teef] /ˈlaɪt moʊˌtif/
a motif or theme associated throughout a music drama with a particular person, situation, or idea.
Origin of leitmotif
1875-80; < German: leading motive Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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British Dictionary definitions for leitmotif


(music) a recurring short melodic phrase or theme used, esp in Wagnerian music dramas, to suggest a character, thing, etc
an often repeated word, phrase, image, or theme in a literary work
Word Origin
C19: from German leitmotiv leading motif
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
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Word Origin and History for leitmotif

1876, "a musical figure to which some definite meaning is attached," from German Leitmotiv, literally "lead motive," from leiten "to lead" (see lead (v.1)) + Motiv (see motive). A term associated with Wagnerian musical drama, though the thing itself is at least as old as Mozart. "The leitmotif must be characteristic of the person or thing it is intended to represent." ["Elson's Music Dictionary"]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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leitmotif in Culture
leitmotif [(leyet-moh-teef)]

A frequently recurring bit of melody, usually in opera, associated with a person, thing, or emotion; Leitmotiv is German for “leading theme.” The leitmotif may be heard in the instrumental or the vocal part.

Note: Leitmotifs are particularly associated with the operas of Richard Wagner.
Note: Recurring themes or subjects in other forms of art or literature are sometimes also called leitmotifs.
The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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