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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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Examples from the Web for leitmotif
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It was what I had always called "Rosemary's leitmotif," expressed in perfume.

    The Brightener C. N. Williamson
  • He will come back, murmured Chavvy, in concordance with her leitmotif.

    Twos and Threes G. B. Stern
  • Here is the leitmotif of the whole fascinating drama of infection and immunity.

    Preventable Diseases Woods Hutchinson
  • "More work for the undertaker" should be the leitmotif of the evening's fun.

    Perfect Behavior Donald Ogden Stewart
  • In her direct and genuine nature there is a 'leitmotif' of pure sweet melody that will enrich the life of its discoverer.

    Bee and Butterfly Lucy Foster Madison
  • Indeed, they recur again and again, like a leitmotif in music, in everything he wrote.

  • In these symphonic poems Liszt has made use of the principle of the leitmotif in orchestral music.

  • Here Rimsky-Korsakov makes a more extended and systematic use of the leitmotif.

    The Russian Opera Rosa Newmarch
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
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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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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