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Now found in more places than the music store.

"Steve's dead now. From here on in, Steve's death will be represented by the oboe."
Tom Servo, Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode #209, The Hellcats

A leitmotif (pronounced "Light-motif") 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 more accurately, codified) by opera composer Richard Wagner in the second half of the 19th Century. In his later operas, not only would every character have their own musical theme, but so did many objects, places, and even abstract ideas.

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 their fellows may comment on how loud and annoying their theme music is. (To which the character will almost always reply, "What theme music?") Can become a Theme Song Reveal 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. Compare Arc Words, which is more or less the literary equivalent. Also compare AM/FM Characterization, when it's the character's music tastes that define them.


    Asian Animation 
  • Noonbory and the Super 7:
    • The "heroic" theme, which is the second most used leitmotif behind the theme song, is typically associated with Noonbory.
    • Lunabory has a gentle theme with little twinkle sounds.
    • Jetybory has a winds-heavy piece with zoom noises.
    • Pongdybory has a weirdly mysterious theme with what sounds like an ocarina.
    • Cozybory has a suspensful theme with a synthesizer.
    • Totobory has a theme comprised primarly of descending clarinet glissandos
    • Dozegury is associated with a horn.
    • Rosygury is associated with the harpsicord.
  • Simple Samosa: In the episode "Tutti Frutti", Tutti Frutti the anthropomorphic ice cream has a short, cheerful ditty which plays throughout the episode, with lyrics based on a well-known rhyme. The full set of lyrics below only appears at the beginning of the episode, otherwise, only the "I scream, yeah, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, yeah!" part shows up.
    I scream, yeah, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, yeah
    Come on and have a scoop
    Any flavor, any fruit
    Nothing can be cooler than me
    I scream, yeah, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, yeah
    I scream, yeah, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, yeah

In The Goon Show almost every appearance of Major Bloodnok is heralded by a specially-composednote  fanfare. One one occasion, this is played with slightly by beginning the tune in grand, operatic style, before reverting to a fanfare at the end.


Video Example(s):


Rio Leitmotifs Part 1

As the YouTuber Minewitcher2 points out in his review of the movie Rio, the film has several leitmotifs that are used for certain scenes such as a leitmotif that is used for Blu which is also the tune for the song Real In Rio.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / Leitmotif

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