"Steve's dead now. From here on in, Steve's death will be represented by the oboe."
A leitmotif is a recurring piece of music (or at least melody) that represents a character, action, or theme. This is a well-established technique used in almost every medium that involves music and story. The leitmotif technique was invented (or at least perfected) by opera composer Richard Wagner
in the second half of the 19th Century where, in his operas, not only would every character have his/her own musical theme, but also objects, places, and even abstract ideas did too.
Leitmotifs are often named simply "<character>'s Theme" or "<noun> Motif"note
. They often make up the bulk
of movie and anime soundtracks, and a fair chunk of video game soundtracks as well.
This is different from an Image Song
in that Image Songs exist only outside of the scope of the show that produced them. Compare with "I Am" Song
If a character with a distinctive-sounding Leitmotif is in a production or episode with No Fourth Wall
(or at least some Medium Awareness
), one of his or her fellows may make a comment
on how loud and annoying their theme music is. (To which the character will almost always reply, "What theme music?") Can become a Musical Spoiler
for audiences if (or after) they recognize the theme. The character might also have their leitmotif as their own ringtone, for a subtler joke; see also Left the Background Music On
Note that if a character's leitmotif starts playing during an action scene, start running
Can become a Recurring Riff
when used throughout a long-running series. Bootstrapped Leitmotif
is such a variation, where a song that wasn't originally intended as a Leitmotif
later becomes one.
One especially common leitmotif in video games is the Battle Theme Music
, associated with monster battles in general. (Which also happen a lot
.) If a specific character's Battle Theme Music
is actually a remix of their Leitmotif
, it may be a Boss Remix
See also Mood Motif
, Standard Snippet
. Supertrope to Love Theme