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motif


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(Fr.; Eng. motive; Ger. motiv).

The shortest intelligible and self‐existent melodic or rhythmic figure (e.g. the first 4 notes of Beethoven's 5th Sym.). Every ‘theme’ or ‘subject’ perhaps has several motifs, and almost every mus. passage will be found to be a development of some motif. But the word has, in mus. analysis, been used as a synonym for ‘theme’; and Wagner's extension of it to leitmotiv has further complicated the issue. The adjective ‘motivic’ is an invention of analytical writers, functional but ugly and better avoided.

Subjects: Music.


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