On Music and Scores Part Three: Development/Embellishment of Leitmotif’s



This is how adults solved their problems.


yeesh. I’m not sure why i delayed the release of the last part of this series for 3 months, as it’s been sitting on my hard drive complete since at least June…

and remember to read parts one and two before starting here.


The last principle to be discussed naturally takes an understanding of the concepts of Introduction and Reinforcement to grasp. As Development/Embellishment is the most abstract, nebulous, and open for individual interpretations of the three guiding principles; thus the viewer should use the previous two to see if their thoughts on development are founded and backed.

To use narrative terms Development is the moral of the score; and much like a story’s moral Development constitutes the reason for the score to exist within the narrative. It is however important to note that development doesn’t only come at the end of the story, as musical themes can grow and change throughout the course of the narrative to better suit the composer’s and story’s needs.

First though i feel it is important to provide the reason why the third principle encompasses both Development and Embellishment of a theme (instead of them being separate). When i say that a theme develops, i generally mean that the music changes in context and meaning throughout the course of the film. Technically the themes can change their tonal colour or melody entirely to emphasise dramatic developments within the narrative. An example of technical development (leading to a complete change of the original theme) is the theme of the Ring Wraiths from the The Lord of the Rings films.

First heard in its most well-known form here at 00:02:18 of the following video:

It remains the same throughout most of the films until it transforms into the following theme, heard at 00:04:15 here:

Evidence of the two themes relation to one another is pointed out by Doug Adams in his book The Music of The Lord of the Rings the theme is:

“… Built of the same secundal harmonies…*” and “… swells past its origins, evolving into a sturdier and rancorous figure…**”

This is only one example of thematic development in Howard Shore’s monumental score to The Lord of the Rings and once again i can’t stress enough that anyone interested in learning more about musical development should pick up and read Doug Adams’ book, as it provides a much more comprehensive look at the material than i can.

Embellishment is what i like to call either a change in instrumentation, or adding various textural or musical accompaniments to a specific leitmotif. Like how the delicate piano line in 00:01:02 of this video:

Is embellished by a full choir in 00:01:40 of the following video:

The melody remains the same between the two, however it is undeniable that Ludwig Goransson’s embellishment of the former piano phrase is used as development of his various themes for Creed. Therefore while there are marked differences between both embellishment and development, the two can go hand in hand when used for the same purpose of advancing musical and narrative themes.

If we look for specific instances of development/embellishment in action one of the most straight forward examples of that comes to mind is provided by Hans Zimmer’s score to The Last Samurai. In it we have two variations of the same battle theme, it is Introduced in the film at 00:26:59 as Captain Algren leads his recruits in their disastrous first battle against the Samurai rebels. The first variation is heard at 00:03:12 in the following video:

The theme is only Reinforced once at 02:04:12 during the final battle, however it isn’t the same as its last iteration. Within context of the story; Algren’s character, personal relationships, and motivation have changed drastically thus providing the motivation for the music to develop. The new battle theme is heard at 00:03:04 in the following video:


Notice that while the melody of the leitmotif remains the same everything around it has been changed. The first variation the melody (as this is Zimmer the horns takes the shape of a typically simplistic ostinato) have the melody cut off by the loud percussive elements and cymbals, having the affect of drowning out and obscuring the implied heroism.

This is then swapped around when the theme is reintroduced; as the melody provided by the horns is brought to the front of the mix. It also receives embellishment in the form of the string section playing high above it in minor chords, adding a sense of tragic heroism to the music.

A more subtle example can come once again from Howard Blake’s excellent score to The Duellists, and once again it is Laura’s Theme that provides the substance. As stated in Part 2 Laura’s Theme is introduced at 00:25:51 (of the film) as Laura is tending to d’Hubert’s wounds after his second duel with Féraud. Heard at 00:00:17 in the following video:

Notice that it is at first just a separate arrangement of the underlying strings of The Duellists Theme:

Now this is important to note, as it aids in the development of the complete Laura’s Theme heard here in full:

Blake adds an intro that comprises of rising clarinets and flute melodies that bear a rhythmic and tonal similarity to the main theme of the movie, thus making Laura’s theme a derivative and yet independent musical idea in the story. I believe this is done to musically state that Laura is affected by the choices d’Hubert makes and makes her own choices because of it; as development of the theme is affected by Laura’s decision to leave d’Hubert the first time, and this fully developed theme is reinforced at 00:44:15 (of the film) when Laura leaves d’Hubert for the last time.

Most interestingly is Laura’s Theme makes two more appearances in the film at 01:23:58 and 01:24:10 as d’Hubert is in danger of losing the people he has come to love. This interesting use of reinforcement suggests the theme may be taken as a musical expression about loss in general, however i maintain that this melody is primarily Laura’s as the development is tied almost exclusively to her involvement in the narrative. Thus i feel confident in saying this at times generalised musical phrasing of loss represents Laura’s distinct musical identity in the story.

I feel that this concludes the principle of Development. As once again it is a concept that is very nebulous and open for individual interpretation.


*Adams 2010 – p. 311
**Adams 2010 – p. 109


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