leitmotif was our Word of the Day on 11/18/2014. Hear the podcast!
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Recent Examples of leitmotif from the Web
This pursuit of justice was Schwan's leitmotif as her career morphed from professor of political science to president of the German-Polish Viadrina University that sprang up when the cold war thawed to Berlin’s envoy for Polish-German relations.
Linking the harvest and farming with armed defense became a pictorial leitmotif especially prevalent during World War II.
Miketta said that has been a leitmotif of the winter, a function of geography and how the storms have been positioned.
The works — two paintings and three sculptures — continue her fascination with cultural and aesthetic sampling, using the pieced-together patterns and textures of boucherouite as a leitmotif.
In the self-portrait, a windmill—a leitmotif in most of Wood’s landscapes—looms behind him against a yellow sky.
Since the migration crisis of 2015, ethnic resentment against Muslims has become a leitmotif in debates about welfare-state policies.
Electronic sounds create unusual effects, like the moment right after the launch, as Steve’s illness overcomes him, when the whole orchestra seems to groan; so does the use of a guitar as a leitmotif for Steve.
The move fits with his Wagnerian influences, prizing leitmotif on top of the grand scope.
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'leitmotif.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.
What exactly is a motif? And how is it different from a leitmotif?
In works of art, a motif is an important and noticeable element or feature that typically appears throughout the work. It can relate to the theme, or it can be the dominant or central idea itself. Concepts like betrayal and forgiveness can be motifs, for example, but so can particular images and sounds, such as trees or bells. Motif is also commonly applied in design, where it typically refers to a single or repeated pattern or color. A piece of fabric might have a floral motif; a room may have a black and white motif.
Motif can also appear in scientific contexts, especially in biochemistry, where it refers to a distinctive molecular sequence or structural element that is usually recurrent.
Leitmotif (also and formerly more commonly spelled leitmotiv) has its origins in opera, and is especially associated with Wagnerian opera. The word is from the German words leit and Motif, which translate respectively as "leading" and "motive." In opera, a leitmotif is a recurring melody that accompanies the reappearance of an idea, person, or situation. The term is now applied in other kinds of music, sometimes with a meaning very close to the original: "The Imperial March" that is heard in the Star Wars film franchise whenever Darth Vader appears on screen, for example, is a modern example of leitmotif.
Leitmotif also has extended use that treads the same territory as motif. It's not a common word, but when it is applied it often refers to a dominant recurring theme, as when an image consistently used in an artist's works is described as a leitmotif. Note that some people object when leitmotif is modified by a word like main or dominant, on the grounds that since German leit means "leading" the phrase is redundant. English speakers using leitmotif in English, however, may choose to ignore the objection since leit does not mean "leading" in English.
Did You Know?
The English word leitmotif (or leitmotiv, as it is also spelled) comes from the German Leitmotiv, meaning "leading motive" and formed from leiten ("to lead") and Motiv (motive). In its original sense, the word applies to opera music and was first used by writers interpreting the works of composer Richard Wagner, who was famous for associating a melody with a character or important dramatic element. Leitmotif is still commonly used with reference to music and musical drama but is now also used more broadly to refer to any recurring theme in the arts or in everyday life.
Learn More about leitmotif
Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about leitmotif
Seen and Heard
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