Motif (music)

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A phrase originally presented as a motif may become a figure which accompanies another melody, as in the second movement of Claude Debussy's String Quartet (1893). Play (help*info)
White would classify the accompaniment as motivic material since it was, "derived from an important motive stated earlier". Debussy String Quartet second movement opening.PNG
A phrase originally presented as a motif may become a figure which accompanies another melody, as in the second movement of Claude Debussy's String Quartet (1893). Loudspeaker.svg Play   White would classify the accompaniment as motivic material since it was, "derived from an important motive stated earlier".
In Beethoven's Fifth Symphony a four-note figure becomes the most important motif of the work, extended melodically and harmonically to provide the main theme of the first movement. Play (help*info) FuenfteDeckblatt.png
In Beethoven's Fifth Symphony a four-note figure becomes the most important motif of the work, extended melodically and harmonically to provide the main theme of the first movement. Loudspeaker.svg Play  
Two note opening motive from Jean Sibelius's Finlandia. Play (help*info) Sibelius - Finlandia, Op. 26 opening motive.png
Two note opening motive from Jean Sibelius's Finlandia . Loudspeaker.svg Play  
Motive from Machaut's Mass, notable for its length of seven notes. Play (help*info) Machaut - Mass motive.png
Motive from Machaut's Mass, notable for its length of seven notes. Loudspeaker.svg Play  
Motive from many of Bach's works including the first movements of the third and sixth Brandenburg Concertos and the third viol da gamba sonata. Play (help*info) Bach - Brandenburg motive.png
Motive from many of Bach's works including the first movements of the third and sixth Brandenburg Concertos and the third viol da gamba sonata. Loudspeaker.svg Play  
Motive from Ravel's String Quartet, first movement. Play (help*info) Ravel - String Quartet, mov. I motive.png
Motive from Ravel's String Quartet, first movement. Loudspeaker.svg Play  
"Curse" motif from film scores, associated with villains and ominous situations. Play (help*info) Bad guy riff.png
"Curse" motif from film scores, associated with villains and ominous situations. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

In music, a motif Loudspeaker.svg (pronunciation)   IPA: (/moʊˈtiːf/) (also motive) is a short musical phrase, [5] a salient recurring figure, musical fragment or succession of notes that has some special importance in or is characteristic of a composition: "The motive is the smallest structural unit possessing thematic identity". [3]

Contents

The Encyclopédie de la Pléiade regards it as a "melodic, rhythmic, or harmonic cell", whereas the 1958 Encyclopédie Fasquelle maintains that it may contain one or more cells, though it remains the smallest analyzable element or phrase within a subject. [6] It is commonly regarded as the shortest subdivision of a theme or phrase that still maintains its identity as a musical idea. "The smallest structural unit possessing thematic identity". [3] Grove and Larousse [7] also agree that the motif may have harmonic, melodic and/or rhythmic aspects, Grove adding that it "is most often thought of in melodic terms, and it is this aspect of the motif that is connoted by the term 'figure'."

A harmonic motif is a series of chords defined in the abstract, that is, without reference to melody or rhythm. A melodic motif is a melodic formula, established without reference to intervals. A rhythmic motif is the term designating a characteristic rhythmic formula, an abstraction drawn from the rhythmic values of a melody.

A motif thematically associated with a person, place, or idea is called a leitmotif. Occasionally such a motif is a musical cryptogram of the name involved. A head-motif (German: Kopfmotiv) is a musical idea at the opening of a set of movements which serves to unite those movements.

Scruton, however, suggests that a motif is distinguished from a figure in that a motif is foreground while a figure is background: "A figure resembles a moulding in architecture: it is 'open at both ends', so as to be endlessly repeatable. In hearing a phrase as a figure, rather than a motif, we are at the same time placing it in the background, even if it is...strong and melodious". [1]

Any motif may be used to construct complete melodies, themes and pieces. Musical development uses a distinct musical figure that is subsequently altered, repeated, or sequenced throughout a piece or section of a piece of music, guaranteeing its unity. Such motivic development has its roots in the keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and the sonata form of Haydn and Mozart's age. Arguably Beethoven achieved the highest elaboration of this technique; the famous "fate motif" —the pattern of three short notes followed by one long one—that opens his Fifth Symphony and reappears throughout the work in surprising and refreshing permutations is a classic example.

Motivic saturation is the "immersion of a musical motive in a composition", i.e., keeping motifs and themes below the surface or playing with their identity, and has been used by composers including Miriam Gideon, as in "Night is my Sister" (1952) and "Fantasy on a Javanese Motif" (1958), and Donald Erb. The use of motives is discussed in Adolph Weiss' "The Lyceum of Schönberg". [8]

Hugo Riemann defines a motif as, "the concrete content of a rhythmically basic time-unit." [9]

Anton Webern defines a motif as, "the smallest independent particle in a musical idea", which are recognizable through their repetition. [10]

Arnold Schoenberg defines a motif as, "a unit which contains one or more features of interval and rhythm [whose] presence is maintained in constant use throughout a piece". [11]

Head-motif

Head-motif (German: Kopfmotiv) refers to an opening musical idea of a set of movements which serves to unite those movements. It may also be called a motto, and is a frequent device in cyclic masses. [12]

See also

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The Tristan chord is a chord made up of the notes F, B, D, and G:

Phrase (music) Musical unit

In music theory, a phrase is a unit of musical meter that has a complete musical sense of its own, built from figures, motifs, and cells, and combining to form melodies, periods and larger sections.

A phrase is a substantial musical thought, which ends with a musical punctuation called a cadence. Phrases are created in music through an interaction of melody, harmony, and rhythm.

Subject (music)

In music, a subject is the material, usually a recognizable melody, upon which part or all of a composition is based. In forms other than the fugue, this may be known as the theme.

Elements of music

Music can be analysed by considering a variety of its elements, or parts, individually or together. A commonly used list of the main elements includes pitch, timbre, texture, volume, duration and form. The elements of music may be compared to the elements of art or design.

Jean-Jacques Nattiez Canadian musicologist

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Figure (music) Shortest phrase in music, a short succession of notes

A musicalfigure or figuration is the shortest phrase in music; a short succession of notes, often recurring. It may have melodic pitch, harmonic progression, and rhythmic meter. The 1964 Grove's Dictionary defines the figure as "the exact counterpart of the German 'motiv' and the French 'motif'": it produces a "single complete and distinct impression". To the self-taught Roger Scruton, however, a figure is distinguished from a motif in that a figure is background while a motif is foreground:

A figure resembles a moulding in architecture: it is 'open at both ends', so as to be endlessly repeatable. In hearing a phrase as a figure, rather than a motif, we are at the same time placing it in the background, even if it is ... strong and melodious

Esthesic and poietic are terms used in semiotics, the study of signs, to describe perceptive and productive levels, processes, and analyses of symbolic forms.

In semiotics the neutral level of a sign is the "trace" left behind; the physical or material creation or remains of esthesic and poietic processes, levels, and analyses of symbolic forms. A part of all signs according to a tri-partitional definition, it corresponds to Saussure's "sound-image".

Period (music)

In music, a period is certain types of recurrence in small-scale formal structure. In twentieth-century music scholarship, the term is usually used as defined by the Oxford Companion to Music: "a period consists of two phrases, antecedent and consequent, each of which begins with the same basic motif." Earlier usage varied somewhat, but usually referred to similar notions of symmetry, recurrence, and closure. The concept of a musical period originates in comparisons between music structure and rhetoric at least as early as the 16th century.

Cell (music)

The 1957 Encyclopédie Larousse defines a cell in music as a "small rhythmic and melodic design that can be isolated, or can make up one part of a thematic context". The cell may be distinguished from the figure or motif: the 1958 Encyclopédie Fasquelle defines a cell as "the smallest indivisible unit", unlike the motif, which may be divisible into more than one cell. "A cell can be developed, independent of its context, as a melodic fragment, it can be used as a developmental motif. It can be the source for the whole structure of the work; in that case it is called a generative cell."

Satz is any single member of a musical piece, which in and of itself displays a complete sense, such as a sentence, phrase, or movement.

In Western music theory, the term sentence is analogous to the way the term is used in linguistics, in that it usually refers to a complete, somewhat self-contained statement. Usually a sentence refers to musical spans towards the lower end of the durational scale; i.e. melodic or thematic entities well below the level of 'movement' or 'section', but above the level of 'motif' or 'measure'. The term is usually encountered in discussions of thematic construction. In the last fifty years, an increasing number of theorists such as William Caplin have used the term to refer to a specific theme-type involving repetition and development.

Music semiology (semiotics) is the study of signs as they pertain to music on a variety of levels.

In music cognition and musical analysis, the study of melodic expectation considers the engagement of the brain's predictive mechanisms in response to music. For example, if the ascending musical partial octave "do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-..." is heard, listeners familiar with Western music will have a strong expectation to hear or provide one more note, "do", to complete the octave.

The term seriation [mise en série] was proposed for use in semiotics by Jean Molino and derived from classical philology. Seriation "invokes the idea that any investigator, in order to assign some plausible meaning to a given phenomenon, must interpret it within a series of comparable phenomena." One cannot interpret what philology calls a hapax; that is, an isolated phenomenon. Art historian Erwin Panofsky has explained the situation in very clear terms:

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References

  1. 1 2 Scruton, Roger (1997). The Aesthetics of Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN   0-19-816638-9.
  2. White, John D. (1976). The Analysis of Music (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall), pp. 31–34. ISBN   0-13-033233-X.
  3. 1 2 3 4 White (1976), pp. 26–27.
  4. 1 2 White (1976), p. 30.
  5. New Grove (1980). cited in Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1990). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie générale et sémiologue, 1987). Translated by Carolyn Abbate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN   0691091366/ ISBN   0691027145.
  6. Both cited in Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1990). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie générale et sémiologue, 1987). Translated by Carolyn Abbate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN   0691091366/ ISBN   0691027145.
  7. 1957 Encyclopédie Larousse cited in Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1990). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie générale et sémiologue, 1987). Translated by Carolyn Abbate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN   0691091366/ ISBN   0691027145.
  8. Hisama, Ellie M. (2001). Gendering Musical Modernism: The Music of Ruth Crawford, Marion Bauer, and Miriam Gideon, pp. 146 and 152. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   0-521-64030-X.
  9. Jonas, Oswald (1982). Introduction to the Theory of Heinrich Schenker (1934: Das Wesen des musikalischen Kunstwerks: Eine Einführung in Die Lehre Heinrich Schenkers), p. 12. Trans. John Rothgeb. ISBN   0-582-28227-6.
  10. Webern (1963), pp. 25–26. Cited in Campbell, Edward (2010). Boulez, Music and Philosophy, p. 157. ISBN   978-0-521-86242-4.
  11. Neff (1999), p. 59. Cited in Campbell (2010), p. 157.
  12. Fallows, David (2001). "Head-motif". In Root, Deane L. (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians . Oxford University Press.