On Music and Scores Part Two: Reinforcement of Leitmotifs

music 1

can you guess the song? Hur Hur Hur

Be sure to read Pt. 1 before you go on.


Reinforcement or repetition is what solidifies the leitmotif’s standing within the thematic content of the film. This is (as mentioned in the previous point) because a composer acting with purpose will produce and use music for specific reasons. Paying attention to when a theme comes back, and how many times it is used provides a simple and logical connection between the leitmotif and what it may be implying.

Indeed Reinforcement is the easiest way to figure out what the composer was attempting to do with a certain musical theme. As the music’s context within the narrative will serve as the most obvious indicators of a leitmotif’s purpose.

There is an important note (while obvious) that i didn’t include in Introduction; while works as dense as Howard Shore’s and John Williams can be picked apart on just their musical theory, my process depends on the viewer being able to link the sounds to the visuals. This is one of the fundamental principles that makes film a unique and powerful art form, as the linking of music and pictures can have a profound impact on the two.

When looking for Reinforcement of an introduced theme, a series of questions that you can ask can read something like this:

  • When was it used before?
  • What is the context of its use now?
  • What is this music reinforcing in the film?

Lets look at some examples of Reinforcement shall we?

James Horner’s excellent score to Braveheart offers a great example of how Reinforcement of a leitmotif taken with narrative context reveals a leitmotif’s meaning. The theme we will look at is what i will term The Battle’s Won heard at 04:03 in the following video:


I must note before we begin that the leitmotif of The Battle’s Won is reinforced multiple times and goes through substantial development during the movie, however the purpose of this example is to serve as an easy way to see how reinforcement can reveal various thematic material and intent by looking at two specific times the theme is reinforced. Development i will cover in the appropriate chapter.

The Battle’s Won is first revealed in all its splendor at 01:32:24 (in the movie) when William Wallace after having won The Battle of Stirling he raises his sword out and proclaims victory over the English. With its grand melody recalling a sense of hope and pride it is easy to link the theme to being about victory on the battle field. However when it is reinforced at 02:45:14 during Wallace’s execution, we can see that the theme also tries to convey meaning not just in a physical victory over ones enemies but also a spiritual victory for freedom. As Wallace wins in both instances regardless of the literal nature of the theme’s initial use.

Reinforcement is also an important tool in separating and categorizing specific leitmotifs from one another. As it is very easy to mistake The Battle’s Won with what i will call the Sons of Scotland as they are very similar in melody and are written in the same musical key. Sons of Scotland is heard in the above video at 03:33 and in the film it is heard in the film preceding The Battle’s Won at 01:31:57. I initially mistook it for the beginning of the latter until i heard it reinforced by itself at 02:47:08 at The Battle of Bannockburn, and then again at 02:49:27 as Hamish throws Wallace’s sword into the ground commencing the battle.

As the two themes are reinforced separately they function as their own distinct themes and it is important to note that given the composer chose to use Sons of Scotland instead of The Battle’s Won is an important development of the two leitmotifs. But again we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

I believe that a viewer once made aware of how and when musical themes are reinforced, will easily be able to predict and link the score to its appropriate thematic content within the narrative. One instance for me was while watching The Duelists. In it the character of Laura is given her own distinct theme, its introduction is heard in the following video at 00:17 :


At first i labeled it as a new theme Wounds, as it is first heard after d’Hubert and Féraud have fought their 2nd duel which lead to d’Hubert being wounded and subsequently being tended to by Laura (00:25:51 in the film). It isn’t until it is reinforced at 00:33:57 when Laura initially leaves d’Hubert, that i made the decision to name and associate it with Laura’s character and her place within the narrative. The theme’s sad strings imply loneliness and i predicted the theme would reappear as Laura describes her sad life to d’Hubert when they meet up again. I was correct in my prediction as Laura’s Theme plays at 00:44:15, thus solidifying the leitmotif in my mind as Laura’s music. Interestingly enough the score itself names this piece of music as Laura’s theme:


I myself can’t consider this to be Laura’s proper theme as the previous theme was reinforced more appropriately. I will leave the matter open however as i will go into the music present within The Duelists in more depth in another series of posts on the subject matter.

Reinforcement is the greatest and most important principle for a viewer to grasp and use when trying to determine what a composer or a musical score is trying to accomplish. Knowing and linking the various uses of a theme to appropriate context within the narrative will begin to show the music’s (at times) cryptic use in an open light. Reinforcement can also allow a viewer to make choices as to the score’s development, which will be covered in the following chapter.




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