Weeks 8–9: Leitmotif

Oct 10: Leitmotif in film

Leitmotif can mean a lot of things in common parlance, but our readings in this class try to nail down a specific, academic definition of the term as opposed to theme, motive, etc.

Reading (due Wednesday before class)

  • Chapter 9 of Bribitzer-Stull (2015)
  • Lehman (2018)

Writing due Saturday at noon

Transcription time! Usually film and video game music scores either don’t exist or are inaccessible to researchers, meaning that transcription becomes an essential skill for studying this repertoire.

  1. Do your best to transcribe the first phrase of the main theme from Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017) as heard in this recording at 1:06. Stop at the first half cadence at around 1:20.
  2. Do the same for the musical cue “Sheikah Tower Activated”
  3. …and for the entrance of the leitmotif that occurs at 3:27 in this cutscene.

For all the examples, prioritize transcribing the melody line, then the bass line, and if you can, try to fill in some details about the harmony. Save as a PDF and upload to your homework submit folder.

These transcriptions will be the basis of your response next week.

Oct 17: Leitmotif in video game music

Leitmotif was totally impractical in early video games, but as sound technology advanced, video games became an unlikely second home for the “true” leitmotif beyond opera. We’ll also do our first reading that’s really from a composer’s point of view.

Reading (due Wednesday before class)

  • Phillips (2014)
  • Anatone (forthcoming)

Visiting expert: Richard Anatone (Professor of Music Theory, Prince George’s Community College)

Writing due Saturday at noon

Refer back to the transcriptions you made last week, and analyze the leitmotivic connections between the tracks.

You may find it helpful to watch a playthrough video of Breath of the Wild on YouTube, or just watch a video of all the cutscenes in the game up to that point—you only have to watch 9 minutes of the linked video. (Or buy the game and play it!)

Write about 500 words using the following prompts:

  • What are the kinds of leitmotivic developmental techniques (after Bribitzer-Stull 2015) used in the latter two cues?
  • (If you’ve played Breath of the Wild and/or other Zelda games) The Legend of Zelda series has Link as its main protagonist, but Zelda obviously also has a prominent role. To what extent do you think the Breath of the Wild main theme is meant to represent Link, Zelda, or both?
  • What topics and/or issues of identity do you think may be working here?

Save as a PDF and upload to your homework submit folder.


Readings are always available in the Readings folder on Teams.

  • Anatone, Richard. Forthcoming. “Leitmotivic Strategies in Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy Soundtracks.” Music Theory Spectrum.
  • Bribitzer-Stull, Matthew. 2015. Understanding the Leitmotif: From Wagner to Hollywood Film Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316161678.
  • Lehman, Frank. 2018. “The Themes of Star Wars: Catalogue and Commentary.” In John Williams: Music for Films, Television, and the Concert Stage, edited by Emilio Audissino, 153–89. Contemporary Composers, volume 1. Turnhout: Brepols.
  • Phillips, Winifred. 2014. “The Importance of Themes.” In A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, 55–74. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.