Enliven your soundtrack with memorable character leitmotif!
Character leitmotif adds tension to film and television!
What is character leitmotif? In short, it’s a piece of music that plays whenever a character appears on screen in television or film. More significantly, it’s a tune that is meant to bring to the audience’s mind a character, almost subconsciously, even if the character doesn’t appear on screen. Pretty clever. So how do you pick music for a character leitmotif? To demonstrate, let’s look at some of the greatest ones in cinema to see how it works.
Leitmotif thickens the plot
You may think that picking instrumentation that matches the time period or some similar detail is crucial in choosing character leitmotif, but there are much more important considerations. Surprisingly perhaps, the character’s personality has more to do with it than anything. And while personality is probably most important, keeping within a bigger overarching musical theme is also essential.
For example, consider the classic cinematic music from The Godfather, composed by Nino Rota. This instantly recognizable waltz is an absolute workhorse. It does so much! Firstly it contains the character leitmotif for the Godfather himself. This signals the character’s presence, of course. But the fact that it so often appears as a waltz, a dance that involves dizzying your partner, also suggests that head games are being played, even if they aren’t being explicitly stated. Additionally, the mandolin recalls the old country, Sicily, and its strong cultural traditions. But it sits within the orchestral suite, which is fundamentally a modern piece of music. That is to say, it moves with the times, as does the Corleone family.
Personality to remember
Like The Godfather, some of the most famous character leitmotifs out there are of course part of custom-composed film scores. And they certainly rank among some of the world’s favorite films of all time. Just think about the undeniably domineering sound of the “Imperial March” from Star Wars. The first few notes of his theme are enough to instantly conjure the image of Darth Vader striding around the corner, cape billowing in his wake. And a few bars of “Raider’s March” from Indiana Jones will have you thinking about whips, fedoras, and sepia-toned maps before you can say, “Why’d it have to be snakes?”
John Williams composed both of these and subsequently many more beloved soundtracks. And what makes his work especially compelling is his embrace of character leitmotif. His music markedly changes to accommodate big character personalities as they appear. But while custom composition is definitely cool, it’s not essential for character leitmotif. Any track that immediately tells a character’s story and which works with the rest of your soundtrack is certainly good game.
Music for Character Leitmotif you can choose from:
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Not every soundtrack makes use of character leitmotif to be sure. But ones that do have made the music every bit as important as the other elements of the film in creating mood, tension, and even driving plot. So have a browse around Yummy Sounds and have a listen. You might just find the voice of your character’s personality coming through!
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