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Understanding the Leitmotif
From Wagner to Hollywood Film Music


  • Date Published: December 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107485464

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About the Authors
  • The musical leitmotif, having reached a point of particular forcefulness in the music of Richard Wagner, has remained a popular compositional device up to the present day. In this book, Matthew Bribitzer-Stull explores the background and development of the leitmotif, from Wagner to the Hollywood adaptations of The Lord of The Rings and the Harry Potter series. Analyzing both concert music and film music, Bribitzer-Stull explains what the leitmotif is and establishes it as the union of two aspects: the thematic and the associative. He goes on to show that Wagner's Ring cycle provides a leitmotivic paradigm, a model from which we can learn to better understand the leitmotif across style periods. Arguing for a renewed interest in the artistic merit of the leitmotif, Bribitzer-Stull reveals how uniting meaning, memory, and emotion in music can lead to a richer listening experience and a better understanding of dramatic music's enduring appeal.

    • Explains the concept of the leitmotif, adopting a new developmental approach to understanding its form and function
    • Explores the themes and associations of modern-day film music and the widely enjoyed musical genres of nineteenth-century dramatic music, such as program symphonies, tone poems, opera, and lieder
    • Provides a cross-disciplinary perspective that will be of interest to scholars of music theory, musicology, film studies, cultural studies, and comparative literature
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'In eloquent prose, Dr Bribitzer-Stull offers a fascinating interpretation of the structural and expressive roles of the leitmotif in Wagnerian opera and Hollywood film music. His attractive semiotic theory of associative meaning yields fundamental insights into how musical motives enhance meaning in intermedial contexts.' Robert S. Hatten, University of Texas, Austin

    'Wagner, the leitmotif, and the cinema have floated near one another for a century now. Bribitizer-Stull has woven them together to fashion the first thoroughly convincing explanation of Wagnerian practice in relation to its heirs in the symphonic underscore of classical and contemporary film.' David P. Neumeyer, University of Texas, Austin

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    Product details

    • Date Published: December 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107485464
    • length: 355 pages
    • dimensions: 246 x 172 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.64kg
    • contains: 3 tables 176 music examples
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction: the leitmotif problem
    Part I. Musical Themes:
    2. Motive, phrase, melody, and theme
    3. Thematic development, thematic identity: musical themes and the prototype model
    Part II. Musical Association:
    4. The phenomenon of musical association
    5. Piece specifics, cultural generics, and associative layering
    6. From 'Nibelheim' to Hollywood: the associativity of harmonic progression
    Part III. Leitmotifs in Context:
    7. The paradigm of Wagner's Ring
    8. Leitmotif in Western art music outside the Ring
    9. The modern-day leitmotif: associative themes in contemporary film music.

  • Author

    Matthew Bribitzer-Stull, University of Minnesota
    Matthew Bribitzer-Stull is Associate Professor of Music Theory at the University of Minnesota. He has presented and published widely on Wagner, nineteenth-century chromatic tonality, musical association, and music theory pedagogy. His articles have appeared in Music Theory Spectrum, the Journal of Music Theory, Music Analysis, Intégral, the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, the Journal of Musicological Research, the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, The Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia, and The Legacy of Richard Wagner, among others. He is author of the Anthology for Performance and Analysis (2013) and co-editor of Richard Wagner for the New Millennium: Essays on Music and Culture (2007, with Alex Lubet and Gottfried Wagner, great-grandson of the composer). Winner of the Society for Music Theory Emerging Scholar Award, he has also received a number of teaching awards.

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