Leitmotifs (which in this context I mean as a motif or theme representing a person, place, thing, idea, etc.) are one of the only music theory concepts that have really escaped into (comparatively) popular understanding. Recently, however, I’ve come across a couple of other related terms: the Idée Fixe (specifically the definition provided by Winifred Phillips, where it describes a melody that represents something more universal and evocative than a simple leitmotif, such as a main theme) and musical theatre’s Contrafactum (such as Howard Ho’s definition as a recurring, recognizable melody that can be assigned to multiple contexts and characters, serving more as a consistent vibe).

I was wondering if there are any other significant terms along these lines, describing recurring melodic material in a narrative setting?

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    Not only melodies but also chords can represent an idea. They are sometimes quoted by other composers to refer to the work and the idea they represent in it. I don't know whether there's a specific term for this, but those chords are often known by a name, such as the "Tristan chord".
    – guesty
    Sep 12, 2022 at 0:44
  • I would suspect not given that Undertale (and I expect Deltarune) fandom repeatedly uses the word "leitmotif" when referring to common recurring melodies in their soundtracks. I think WiKirby mainly stuck to "arrangement" and "based on" when referring to similarly common recurring melodies in the 2nd latest Kirby game.
    – Dekkadeci
    Sep 12, 2022 at 4:20
  • I'm not sure you've completely understood these terms. See music.stackexchange.com/a/106802/19678 // Maybe theme and variations? Sep 17, 2022 at 1:56
  • @aparente001 Not seeing any contradiction to what I said in that stackexchange post. "Theme and variations" doesn't really get into what I'm talking about here--I mean it's a closely related subject, but it's a little more of an umbrella category than this. I'm more just talking about the various flavors of recurring motifs in conjunction with narrative, usecases, that sort of thing. Like all of what I listed are of course themes and (almost by necessity) have variations, but "theme and variation" isn't the best way to describe the nuances between them.
    – Legoman
    Sep 17, 2022 at 5:17
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    @Legoman - I'm just fishing, here. I was trying to think of more descriptions of "recurring melodic material." I think theme and variations fits. Maybe recitative also -- although they are generally not hugely melodic. / Maybe you're going to have to invent some terms yourself. Sep 18, 2022 at 1:15


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