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Compositional Devices & Leitmotifs - Somewhere there's music, how faint the tune




4/27/16, 2:07 AM





C omposit ion al D ev ic es & Leit mot if s - S omew her e t her e' s music , how f ain t t he t un e

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2011-02-09 13:15
Subject: Compositional Devices & Leitmotifs
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Hedwig's Theme -- Philospher's Stone Score, John Williams

movie score analysis, music, theory

I am almost 100% sure that I've managed to forget a device or two. It happens every time. I think, however, that I've definitely covered
the major ones. (No pun intended.)

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Musical Theory

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There is no real basic way to explain a lot of this but Im going to try and remember what it was like learning this for the first time.
Compositional devices are the label given to the ways in which a composer manipulates the elements of music in certain ways, to create
different moods and effects.

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This compositional device speaks for itself, but a piece of music without contrast would be exceedingly boring. To use an example that
everyone recognises, within the first fifteen seconds of the first movement of Beethovens fifth (dun dun dun dunnnnnnn, for anyone
whos forgotten incidentally, its an example of the sonata form I mentioned briefly in the last entry), there is immense contrast. There
is contrast in the dynamics, the instrumentation, and the texture.
Contrast can utilise every element, and can be between phrases, sections, or whole movements.
This is also fairly straightforward. Just like with contrast, repetition can be at a minute level, or a grand level. There could be repeated
notes within a phrase, or an entire section could be repeated at a later stage in the work.
Variation is tightly knit with repetition; often, repeated passages will be varied slightly in some way or another. Just as with repetition
and contrast, there can be variation at a multitude of levels commonly, out of two phrases, the second will begin the same as the first,
but the end will vary. This both adds unity and variation.
Imitation is quite similar to repetition however, the catch is that if something is imitated, the material will be the same, but will have
been shifted up or down the scale.
Stretto refers to phrases which overlap almost like a canon, or a round, with the second phrase starting at a different time to the first.
Sequences are used frequently in the build-up or aftermath of a climax or other dramatic point. What sequences are is a pattern that is
repeated over and over except that the pitch moves up or down by a small amount each time. For example, say we had four quavers: A,
B, G, A. If we start the bar with these four, but in the last two beats shift them up one (B, C, A, B) and continue to do so, this would be a
Fragmentation is exactly what it sounds like a fragment is taken from the main melody.

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Compositional Devices & Leitmotifs - Somewhere there's music, how faint the tune

4/27/16, 2:07 AM

A melody/rhythm that has been augmented has had all of its note values doubled. For example, a rhythm that went crotchet, quaver,
quaver after augmentation would become minim, crotchet, crotchet.
Diminution is simply the opposite of augmentation instead of the note values doubling, they are instead halved.
Ostinatos are a crucial part of many compositions. There can be melodic, rhythmic or harmonic ostinatos, and in essence an ostinato is
simply a small pattern that is repeated over and over again. For example, in the second movement of Beethovens seventh, he utilises a
crotchet, quaver, quaver ostinato. This is used as a unifying device throughout the entire movement.
To use a more modern example, Hans Zimmers music revolves extensively around the use of ostinatos. In the score for The Dark
Knight, there is a continually recurring ostinato, which is comprised of four lots of semi-quavers: C sharp, D, F, E C sharp, D, E, F C
sharp, D, F, E F, G, E, F. His Sherlock Holmes score also makes extensive use of ostinatos, as do Howard Shores Lord of the Rings


Leitmotif is a German word that means leading motif, and is a concept used in the majority of film scores today. The main task for a
film composer is to capture the essence of the characters in their music, and leitmotifs are a great help with this. A leitmotif is essentially
a melody or theme that represents a character, symbol, or recurring theme throughout the film(s).
To perfectly illustrate the success of leitmotif use by some world renowned film composers, Im going to pick out a few choice examples.
I challenge anyone to hear this and not think of (cue lightsaber sounds and heavy breathing)

If the moment you hear this you arent transported back to gently rolling hills, short, round houses and their short, round denizens, I
would kindly like to remind you that the door is that way.

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Compositional Devices & Leitmotifs - Somewhere there's music, how faint the tune

4/27/16, 2:07 AM

Oh, John Williams, youve done it again. Love it or hate it, this song is immediately recognisable to pretty much anyone who can read.


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