leitmotiv

World English Dictionary
leitmotif or leitmotiv (ˈlaɪtməʊˌtiːf)
 
n
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
 
[C19: from German leitmotiv leading motif]
 
leitmotiv or leitmotiv
 
n
 
[C19: from German leitmotiv leading motif]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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WordNet
leitmotiv

noun
a melodic phrase that accompanies the reappearance of a person or situation (as in Wagner's operas) 
WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.
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