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Scores with best thematic/leitmotif handling ever (Minus LOTR and SW)


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57 minutes ago, Holko said:

How to Train Your Dragon trilogy.

 

13 minutes ago, GerateWohl said:

Indiana Jones quadrology.

Minus both.

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1 hour ago, Holko said:

 

How to Train Your Dragon trilogy.

 

 

42 minutes ago, GerateWohl said:

 

Indiana Jones quadrology.

 


The Purge Pentalogy.

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Outside LOTR and SW, definitely Lost.

 

HTTYD didn't immediately spring to mind, but yes, I suppose so!

 

Although they don't have a huge number of themes, what about Horner's Zorro scores? Themes feature heavily, yet the both scores have an impresive amount of music which never sounds repetitive.

 

And going back to the TV, perhaps something like Fringe.

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Probably not everyone's favorite but Game Of Thrones.

 

Bear McCreary's Outlander is very strong as well.

 

As for films. Maybe Godzilla: King Of The Monsters and indeed How To Train Your Dragon trilogy

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1 hour ago, Fabulin said:

In the classical sense, the best thematic handling is right here, in the main title:

 

Know Batman score to death.

 

1 hour ago, Anthony said:

Outside LOTR and SW, definitely Lost.

 

HTTYD didn't immediately spring to mind, but yes, I suppose so!

 

Although they don't have a huge number of themes, what about Horner's Zorro scores? Themes feature heavily, yet the both scores have an impresive amount of music which never sounds repetitive.

 

And going back to the TV, perhaps something like Fringe.

Know HTTYD very well too.

 

Listened to Zorro scores and was very enjoyed. 

 

Not a fan of TV scores.

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Kinda hard question to answer, since so many scores are leitmotivic. Right now, I'm totally taken by A.I.'s thematic landscape. For me, more sophisticated than the LOTRs and STAR WARSes of this world.

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1 hour ago, Arpy said:

Murray Gold's Doctor Who comes to mind, over ten years of thematic writing. Not all of it was handled brilliantly, especially in post, but there is a nice catalog of themes and motifs to explore.

 

 

Totally agree! He wrote many terrific themes for the different Doctors as well as his companions and the various recurring enemies. I'm sure the usage wasn't super consistent at times, but enough to be very effective, albeit without quite the same level of consistency that a movie franchise would allow. I don't even know if there are any recurring themes for the latest series...

 

Else, How to Train Your Dragon is a clear leader here. So many great themes and Powell uses them splendidly throughout all three films with a number of fine variations.

 

Is there actually anything comparable to Star Wars before Star Wars? (Don't say Wagner ;-) I guess there are film series such as Bond and, erm, The Pink Panther but they didn't really tell an ongoing story so only the main themes connect them. It's enticing to think what Miklos Rozsa or Franz Waxman could have done with a film franchise.

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4 hours ago, Tom Guernsey said:

Is there actually anything comparable to Star Wars before Star Wars? (Don't say Wagner ;-) I guess there are film series such as Bond and, erm, The Pink Panther but they didn't really tell an ongoing story so only the main themes connect them.

 

I don't think there was.

 

I think there's a big misunderstanding of the leitmotif. Using recurring themes to signify narrative elements in programmatic works is something composers had always done. Those reminiscence themes are different to leitmotives in two senses: The one is that leitmotives undergo significant variation, whereas reminiscense themes remain the same. I'm not familiar enough with the Bond scores to assess how much actual variation occurs in each of them, and therefore it may well be that they don't comply with this parameter of the leitmotif.

 

The other difference is that reminiscence themes tend to exist in a small number per work, whereas there are at least several dozen leitmotives in each Ring music-drama and in each Middle Earth film, and slightly less (but still a considerable amount given their shorter runtime) in each Williams' Star Wars score (and a few other of his scores).

 

This issue of the number of themes isn't just a technicality: if you only have five or seven thematic reminiscences in an three-hour opera, that means that you basically have a score, spotted with occasional moments of dramatic association here and there; whereas in an three-and-a-half hour music-drama which contains 47 leitmotives, it becomes a quilt where virtually every moment has a dramatic association of somekind. This is a situation that did not exist prior to the Ring and that does not exist in many film scores, and certainly not in any Bond score that I know.

 

Leitmotives also require specific dramatic associations. Its why The Ring has leitmotives but Tristan (concieved after the Ring) really doesn't: Not because Tristan isn't constructed of a large number of musical cells that undergo development (which it is), but because only four or five such cells in Tristan can actually be associated with anything specific in the drama like with Tristan's pains or with King Marke. The rest are just a collection of love themes. Its always funny looking at lists of "leitmotives" from Tristan: there'd be themes like Longing 1, longing 2, love felicity, love's desire, love's overwhelming power, love, passion, love's ecstacy, love's caresses, love's bliss, love-death, the magic of love... - you get the picture.

 

The mature leitmotif can also be arranged into sets and subsets of related and opposing themes: The Ring can be roughly split into love themes, heroic themes, nature themes, themes that link to the Ring, themes that relate to mankind, and possible a few other categories. In film, the only scores that really do that are the Middle Earth scores.

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17 minutes ago, Chen G. said:

 

I don't think there was.

 

I think there's a big misunderstanding of the leitmotif. Using recurring themes to signify narrative elements in programmatic works is something composers had always done. Those reminiscence themes are different to leitmotives in two senses: The one is that leitmotives undergo significant variation, whereas reminiscense themes remain the same. I'm not familiar enough the Bond scores to assess how much actual variation occurs in each of them, and therefore it may well be that they don't comply with this parameter of the leitmotif.

 

The other difference is that reminiscence themes tend to exist in a small number per work, whereas there are at least several dozen leitmotives in each Ring music-drama, in each Middle Earth film and slightly less (but still a considerable amount given their shorter runtime) in each Williams' Star Wars score (and a few other of his scores).

 

This issue of the number of themes isn't just a technicality: if you only have five or seven thematic reminiscences in an three-hour opera, that means that you basically have a score, spotted with occasional moments of dramatic association here and there; whereas in an three-and-a-half hour music-drama which contains 47 leitmotives, it becomes a quilt where virtually every moment has a dramatic association of somekind. This is a situation that did not exist prior to the Ring and that does not exist in many film scores.

 

Leitmotives also require specific dramatic associations. Its why The Ring has leitmotives but Tristan really doesn't: Not because Tristan isn't constructed of a large number of musical cells that undergo development (which it is), but because only four or five such cells in Tristan can actually be associated with anything specific in the drama like with Tristan's pains or with King Marke. The rest are just a collection of love themes. Its always funny looking at lists of "leitmotives" from Tristan: there'd be themes like Longing 1, longing 2, love felicity, love's desire, love's overwhelming power, love, love's ecstacy, love's caresses, love's bliss, love-death, the power of love... - you get the picture.

 

The mature leitmotif can also be arranged into sets and subsets of related and opposing themes: The Ring can be roughly split into love themes, heroic themes, nature themes, themes that link to the Ring, themes that relate to mankind, and possible a few other categories. In film, the only scores that really do that are the Middle Earth scores.

 

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Hey, at least it takes a lot less time to read my reply than it is to listen to Dr. Swann's lecture:

 

 

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Most Giacchino scores have a plethora of themes and they usually receive some interesting variations.

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3 hours ago, Holko said:

...gotta hand it to you, at least you did something new with the material.

I'm so confused with myself. What did I write?? Hahah 

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Was the Matrix trilogy particularly noteworthy when it came to themes? Or was it memorable because it was unique?

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12 hours ago, Arpy said:

Murray Gold's Doctor Who comes to mind, over ten years of thematic writing. Not all of it was handled brilliantly, especially in post, but there is a nice catalog of themes and motifs to explore.

 

This. There's at least one wonderful moment where the Cybermen motif reveals who the mystery threat is moments before the actual dialogue does.

 

10 minutes ago, Anthony said:

Was the Matrix trilogy particularly noteworthy when it came to themes? Or was it memorable because it was unique?

 

Hardly, because the first score was generally said to be theme-less. Although it does of course have an actual love theme, and both the iconic tone pyramid and the sentinel music very much serve, narratively, as themes, even if they're not defined purely by melody.

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Battlestar Galactica and specially Batman:The Animated Series are very good in thematic development and consistency

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7 hours ago, karelm said:

Superman (1978)

 

13 hours ago, bollemanneke said:

Harry Potter 1.

Basically minus all JW because I've heard it all.

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Well, excluding a large part of JW's output and LOTR, and some Powell scores that were already mentioned, Korngold (e.g., Adventures of Robin Hood) and Goldsmith (e.g., The Mummy and, to a certain extent, Alien) come to my mind. 

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6 minutes ago, Score said:

to a certain extent, Alien

 

Would that not fall into the category of thematic reminiscence as opposed to leitmotiv?

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3 hours ago, Chen G. said:

 

Would that not fall into the category of thematic reminiscence as opposed to leitmotiv?

 

Well, the OP is asking about thematic/leitmotiv handling, so I don't think he is looking just for examples of the academic definition of leitmotiv. In Alien, there are definitely some recurring themes which can be associated either with the Alien itself, or with the desolation of the alien planet, or with the loneliness and mistery of space travel (that woodwind figuration appearing mostly in the initial cues that was also reprised by Horner in his score for Aliens), so I think the score fits the request.

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Which is why I'm pointing out that its worth separating the two. Scores that use thematic reminiscence are extremly prevalent. Scores that use leitmotives - not so much.

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I don't think it's necessary to apply overly strict definitions, especially in the case of film score, which compared to an extensive and entirely music-based work like Wagner's Ring is often limited in length and freedom to use prominent music continuously. For example, while Goldsmith's STTMP main theme is more of a recurring "main theme"/idée fixe than a leitmotif, his Ilia theme already has a more narrative application, and the Klingon theme, although used sparingly, is clearly a leitmotif, especially in its use throughout the series. It's also a good example, I think, because its adagio counterpoint use in The Final Frontier's climax is a perfect narrative application of a leitmotif.

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1 hour ago, Marian Schedenig said:

I don't think it's necessary to apply overly strict definitions, especially in the case of film score, which compared to an extensive and entirely music-based work like Wagner's Ring is often limited in length and freedom to use prominent music continuously.

 

Leitmotives don't need to be truly continuous. Even in the Ring that's not the case: there are passages that exist in isolation, a-la Wintersturme.  Nor do all the leitmotives in a work need to undergo development: some of the Ring themes remain largely unchanged: Renounciation of Love stays pretty much the same across the cycle, as does Parsifal's theme through the eponymous drama.

 

The point is that at least some of them undergo transformation and that, put together, they constitute a large part of the underscore, not just sprinkled here and there. That seems simple enough a distinction to make, if one knows a score reasonably well. For instance, not just Star Wars but many of Williams denser scores count as leitmotivic: his Potter scores, Hook, Indiana Jones and a couple other all spring to mind, while Jaws is more thematic reminiscence, for example.

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Yes, but that doesn't mean that a score can't have one or two leitmotifs among more "generic themes" - see the Trek example I mentioned above. Whether you'd call the score as a whole leitmotivic is of course another matter. I wouldn't call The Matrix a leitmotific score, but on reflection (and Wikipedia's statement: "A musical motif has been defined as a "short musical idea ... melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic, or all three",[4] a salient recurring figure, musical fragment or succession of notes that has some special importance in or is characteristic of a composition"), one could argue that the distinctive sentinel music qualifies as a leitmotif.

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5 minutes ago, Marian Schedenig said:

that doesn't mean that a score can't have one or two leitmotifs among more "generic themes"

 

That's fine, but the other criteria (which I think is significant) is that leitmotives are numerous enough so as to constitute a large part of the underscore, as opposed to just occasional moments of dramatic associations. In Williams' more intricate scores, for instance, almost everything you hear is either one of the main themes or at least directly engendered by them. In other scores, the themes are just sprinkled here and there - I think that's an important distinction.

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2 minutes ago, Chen G. said:

That's fine, but the other criteria (which I think is significant) is that leitmotives are numerous enough so as to constitute a large part of the underscore, as opposed to just occasional moments of dramatic associations.

 

For calling the score as a whole "leitmotific", sure. But I don't see how that should be relevant for identifying individual themes as leitmotifs, even if the score has only one. If it works as a leitmotif, it doesn't really matter if there are others or not - the way that one motif is used and functions is still the same. Likewise, a monothematic score has only one theme, yet we wouldn't object to calling that a theme, even if it's the only one. It's of course were unlikely for such a theme to also be a leitmotif - though if you count the love theme as the only theme of the Matrix score, even that might apply. ;) 

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I think you can't isolate a single theme from the context of the score as a whole. That's why such a theme would be more of a reminiscence theme than a leitmotiv.

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I just read the liner notes by Nina Goslar and Frank Strobel for the complete recording of Huppertz' Metropolis. I'm not familiar with the score yet (I only got it a week ago, and am listening to it for the second time now). The liner notes explicitly mention "six components" of the music:

Quote

 

  1. leitmotifs,
  2. scene-related themes and motifs intended for a single passage within the film,
  3. longer sections primarily adhering to musical rules,
  4. ostinato figures with leitmotif character,
  5. musical description and
  6. quotations.

 

I take from that 1) that I'm not alone in thinking leitmotifs can coexist with other themes and non-thematic techniques in a larger work, and 2) apparently (as further elaborated on in the notes), Metropolis is another score that makes extensive use of leitmotifs.

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I think there's a misunderstanding.

 

Reminiscence Themes can be tied to specific elements in the drama just as much as leitmotives. Everytime we hear the music of "Nie sollst du mich befragen, noch Wissens Sorge tragen" in Lohengrin, we remember the forbidden question, and it happens quite a few times across the opera, and that sort of thing was done since the beginning of programmatic music. The difference is that its sprinkled through the opera (unchanged, too) as the odd "aha!" moment. Whereas in Siegfried almost every single phrase of music has some dramatic meaning to us.

 

In one the themes are signposts, in another they're the tarmac of the road itself. That's the difference between thematic reminiscence and leitmotives, and its a significant difference.

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56 minutes ago, Marian Schedenig said:

What about its main theme? Even in the first score it doubles as a Skywalker theme and the main theme. In the later scores, it's rarely tied directly to Luke, so its leitmotific use is comparatively rare.

 

That's not much of an issue. Leitmotives can have all manner of meanings, and they can change meanings throughout the work. In the Ring, the Tarnhelm motive starts out as just that, but by Gotterdamerung its really no longer the Tarnhelm theme: its the general "magic" theme.

 

Luke's theme is also the "Star Wars theme" (that's what Williams calls it beginning with The Empire Strikes Back) because Luke is the main character, henceh is theme and that of the series are one and the same. Because the meaning of leitmotives is associative, they often have a general meaning and a specific meaning existing side-by-side.

 

Interesting that virtually all the leitmotives from the original Star Wars changed their meaning as the series progressed: the Luke theme became the "Star Wars" theme; Old Ben became The Force; Leia's theme really started life as the Luke-Leia romance theme; the Rebel fanfare (which Williams would later claim was for the Falcon, although I have an idea why that is) started life as the theme of the blockade runner, etc...

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Well, Ben is so closely tied to the Force in the first film that if the theme's dual association wasn't intentional, it at least came naturally. Williams may have conceived the Rebel fanfare just for the blockade runner opening, but he clearly already used it for at least the Falcon in several other scenes in that score. The odd theme out in this case is Leia's, which intentionally had all the attributes of a love theme throughout the film. Probably the reason why it rarely shows up in the later films. In hindsight, it appears that although Leia was associated with three themes throughout the saga, they all defined her through her relationship with male characters - with Luke in the original "love" theme; with Han in Han Solo and the Princess (although I still argue that one serves primarily as a Han theme), and again with Luke in Luke and Leia. Lucas' scripts have a better chance of passing the Bechdel test than Williams' scores in that case.

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2 hours ago, Marian Schedenig said:

Williams may have conceived the Rebel fanfare just for the blockade runner opening, but he clearly already used it for at least the Falcon in several other scenes in that score

 

Williams made an exception with the original Star Wars and read the script. While he was at it, he might have seen concept art which may or may have been attached to the script itself; and, of course, the original design for the Falcon was the design of the Blockade Runner. 

 

So the theme of the blockade runner became the theme of the Rebellion and, mostly in the sequel trilogy, became the theme of the Falcon. Mystery solved!

 

Quote

Ben is so closely tied to the Force in the first film that if the theme's dual association wasn't intentional, it at least came naturally. 

 

To some extent, yes. But then, the feel of the theme is very melancholy which works for the reclusive, exiled war veteran much more so than it does for the omnipotent "Force". I suppose what it has going for it as a representation of the Force (Williams had been referring to it as The Force theme consistently since Empire) is that it sounds revential.

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