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Motif (music)

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For other uses, see Motif (disambiguation).

A phrase originally presented as a motif may become a figure which accompanies

another melody, as in the second movement of Claude Debussy's String Quartet
(1893).[1] About this soundPlay (help�info) White would classify the accompaniment
as motivic material since it was, "derived from an important motive stated

In Beethoven's Fifth Symphony a four-note figure becomes the most important motif
of the work, extended melodically and harmonically to provide the main theme of the
first movement. About this soundPlay (help�info)

Two note opening motive from Jean Sibelius's Finlandia.[3] About this soundPlay

Motive from Machaut's Mass, notable for its length of seven notes.[3] About this
soundPlay (help�info)

Motive from many of Bach's works including the first movements of the third and
sixth Brandenburg Concertos and the third viol da gamba sonata.[4] About this
soundPlay (help�info)

Motive from Ravel's String Quartet, first movement.[4] About this soundPlay

"Curse" motif from film scores, associated with villains and ominous situations.
About this soundPlay (help�info)
In music, a motif About this sound(pronunciation) (help�info) (also motive) is a
short musical phrase,[5] a salient recurring figure, musical fragment or succession
of notes that has some special importance in or is characteristic of a composition:
"The motive is the smallest structural unit possessing thematic identity".[3]

The Encyclop�die de la Pl�iade regards it as a "melodic, rhythmic, or harmonic

cell", whereas the 1958 Encyclop�die Fasquelle maintains that it may contain one or
more cells, though it remains the smallest analyzable element or phrase within a
subject.[6] It is commonly regarded as the shortest subdivision of a theme or
phrase that still maintains its identity as a musical idea. "The smallest
structural unit possessing thematic identity".[3] Grove and Larousse[7] also agree
that the motif may have harmonic, melodic and/or rhythmic aspects, Grove adding
that it "is most often thought of in melodic terms, and it is this aspect of the
motif that is connoted by the term 'figure'."

A harmonic motif is a series of chords defined in the abstract, that is, without
reference to melody or rhythm. A melodic motif is a melodic formula, established
without reference to intervals. A rhythmic motif is the term designating a
characteristic rhythmic formula, an abstraction drawn from the rhythmic values of a

A motif thematically associated with a person, place, or idea is called a

leitmotif. Occasionally such a motif is a musical cryptogram of the name involved.
A head-motif (German: Kopfmotiv) is a musical idea at the opening of a set of
movements which serves to unite those movements.

Scruton, however, suggests that a motif is distinguished from a figure in that a

motif is foreground while a figure is background: "A figure resembles a moulding in
architecture: it is 'open at both ends', so as to be endlessly repeatable. In
hearing a phrase as a figure, rather than a motif, we are at the same time placing
it in the background, even if it is...strong and melodious".[1]

Any motif may be used to construct complete melodies, themes and pieces. Musical
development uses a distinct musical figure that is subsequently altered, repeated,
or sequenced throughout a piece or section of a piece of music, guaranteeing its
unity. Such motivic development has its roots in the keyboard sonatas of Domenico
Scarlatti and the sonata form of Haydn and Mozart's age. Arguably Beethoven
achieved the highest elaboration of this technique; the famous "fate motif" �the
pattern of three short notes followed by one long one�that opens his Fifth Symphony
and reappears throughout the work in surprising and refreshing permutations is a
classic example.

Motivic saturation is the "immersion of a musical motive in a composition", i.e.,

keeping motifs and themes below the surface or playing with their identity, and has
been used by composers including Miriam Gideon, as in "Night is my Sister" (1952)
and "Fantasy on a Javanese Motif" (1958), and Donald Erb. The use of motives is
discussed in Adolph Weiss' "The Lyceum of Sch�nberg".[8]

Hugo Riemann defines a motif as, "the concrete content of a rhythmically basic

Anton Webern defines a motif as, "the smallest independent particle in a musical
idea", which are recognizable through their repetition.[10]

Arnold Schoenberg defines a motif as, "a unit which contains one or more features
of interval and rhythm [whose] presence is maintained in constant use throughout a