Theme-and-Variations Soundtrack

A soundtrack trope. Basically, the application/adaptation of the musical form Theme And Variations to a soundtrack. Alternatively, this is the trope Recurring Riff, But More—enough to basically dominate the soundtrack. This is when you hear said recurring riff all over the soundtrack; many of the tracks are effectively variations on this "theme" of the work.

Happens slightly more often if the work has a catchy theme song motif that can be worked into the soundtrack.

This trope is also like a highly elaborate and very much expanded version of Variable Mix.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Baccano!'s soundtrack has many pieces with the same melody as the main theme (note, not the same as the OP), but at different tempos and with different sets of instruments.
  • Elfen Lied: Arrangements of "Lilium" (the opening credit theme) are used frequently as background music, covering scenes with wide arrays of emotions such as sadness, nostalgia, serenity, suspense, and murder.
  • Gundam:
  • Stratos 4: A number of tracks, including one labeled "Mikaze's Theme" (for the lead main character), that all share a tune. At the last episode, this is revealed to be the tune of the second ending theme (which is used for the ends of whole seasons).
  • The Voltron series used the theme motif (A C# D E) quite a bit in its soundtrack.

    Films — Animation 
  • 5 Centimeters per Second: Most of the music in the film is an arranged version of either the piano theme from the trailer, or of "One More Time, One More Chance"
  • Howl's Moving Castle features perhaps three different themes, and the vast majority of the soundtrack is based on only one of them.
  • Voices of a Distant Star: In the soundtrack notes, Tenmon remarks that he essentially created the soundtrack by writing a "Theme A" and "Theme B", and then made variations on those two themes to provide appropriate background music for every scene.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The soundtrack of The Last Airbender film was mostly made of variations of this theme
  • In Titanic (1997), most tracks that don't play during the iceberg collision or the sinking are mostly variations on either the "Southampton" Theme or the Love Theme.
  • In the German adventure movie F. P. 1 antwortet nicht (1932), composer Allan Gray (born Josef Zmigrod) makes good use of the main theme. In the course of the film you get to hear it as the song "Flieger, grüß' mir die Sonne" (Aviator, greet the sun for me) sung by the hero (Hans Albers in German, Conrad Veidt in the simultaneously produced English version, Flying Platform 1 Does Not Answer, and Charles Boyer in the French), as a march, as a foxtrot, a waltz, and in various pieces of incidental music. The song became a hit again in the 1980s in a cover version by the band Extrabreit.
  • The soundtrack to Pan's Labyrinth. Fortunately, "Mercedes' Lullaby" is also a Crowning Music of Awesome.
  • Inception had its score built around orchestral variations on Edith Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien".
  • The recurring themes of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids are "Strange Neighbors" and the main title, this last being a riff on Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse".
  • You Never Dreamed bases its short score on "The Last Poem".
  • The Fountain's score uses several variations of "Death is the Road to Awe."
  • Paul McCartney's soundtrack to the 1966 film The Family Way largely consists of variations on the main theme. It is lovely, though, to the extent that McCartney had it played as he walked down the aisle (the second time).
  • The scores of most James Bond films will be variations of the film's own theme song, the classic James Bond 007 theme, or a combination of the two. (The film themes themselves often feature motifs from the series theme as well.) They're generally subtle, until the time comes for a Theme Music Power-Up.
  • The Galaxy Quest soundtrack was largely based on the show's theme In-Universe.
  • Once The Giver starts playing the piano, that tune dominates the score.
  • Eragon: Patrick Doyle's score hinges on one main theme. Any other melodies are really subtle and one-offs.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Wicked does this with the chord progression and parts of the melody of "No One Mourns the Wicked", particularly the Overture. This theme is actually based on a piece from the rock opera The Survival of St. Joan, in which Stephen Schwartz was musical director.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • Inspector Gadget. Gadget's theme in particular is arranged in a different way in every episode, and is a Recurring Riff in most of the other tracks as well. Nearly every track on the show's soundtrack contains at least a small bit of it. The other unique songs were often rearranged as well; Penny's theme had at least four different arrangements, probably more (though only one ended up on the soundtrack).
  • The Simpsons is deservedly famous for the many variations of its main theme, sometimes in the style of those of well-known movies or TV series or rescored to be played by various instruments, like a Jazz quartet, rock bands or renaissance musicians.
  • This trope is actually a frequent occurrence in western animated productions, especially from the 1960s up to at least the 1990s.