Today many types of music that have dramatic narratives ranging from television, video games, movies and rock operas borrow a lot from the leitmotif approach (Gorbman, 1987:43). This paper will discuss the leitmotif principle in opera and film. It will also explain and illustrate the operation of the principle during the nineteenth century opera and the influence and legacy it had on the twentieth century art.
The term leitmotif was first introduced to the operas by Richard Wagner describing a recurring melody related to a specific object, character, emotion, people or idea. A musical phrase occurs constantly and is associated with the above aspects (Dahlhaus, 1989:195). This principle has been used as a standard technique or method of how film music or dramatic music is used and was applied especially during the era of classical Hollywood films during the nineteenth century (Burt, 2000:34). Some of the notable composers who used the principle in their works include Max Steiner and Erich Korngold. It is important to ask what qualifies as a leitmotif in film. To answer this question, several factors characterise a work that can be considered to have used the leitmotif principle.