Wagner and the Leitmotive
Wagner's use of musical material that recurrs throughout an opera to characterise a person or an idea is complex, and his approach to these motives evolves through his life. The systematic identification and naming of these did not, however, form part of the plan for the reception of his works: his admirers named and explained them, dubbed them leitmotives, and published guides to the their occurrences in his operas.
Transforming Musicology's investigation of the Leitmotive followed several parallel approaches. While Laurence Dreyfus looked to the music of the operas for evidence of Wagner's own dramatic strategies, Carolin Rindfleisch approached the guides themselves, seeing what they tell us about the reception of Wagner's operas. In addition to these more traditional and historically-oriented musicological undertakings, Daniel Müllensiefen took a psychological approach, considering how the music is perceived now. Through memory experiments and taking live biometric measurements during a complete performance of the Ring cycle, he investigated physical responses to Wagner’s compositional strategies.
Main researchers: Laurence Dreyfus, Carolin Rindfleisch, Daniel Müllensiefen, Tim Crawford, Christophe Rhodes, Kevin Page, Richard Lewis, Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller.
Selected key papers:
Kevin Page and Carolin Rindfleisch (March 2017), ‘Linking Leitmotifs: A Digital Study of Leitmotif Interpretations through Ontologically Contextualised Notation’, In International Musicological Society, Tokyo.
David Baker, and Daniel Müllensiefen (July 2016). ‘Hearing Wagner: Physiological Responses to Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen’. In Proceedings of 14th International Conference for Music Cognition and Perception. San Francisco, CA. [poster]
Carolin Rindfleisch (April 2016). ‘Emulating Performance? Richard Wagner’s Descriptions of his Leitmotifs’. In Inaugural conference of the Northern Opera Research Network. Huddersfield, UK.
Carolin Rindfleisch (January 2016). ‘'The eternal question to fate, surging up from the depth': Richard Wagner’s Descriptions of his Leitmotives in Changing Contexts of Communication’. In RMA Students' Conference 2016. Bangor, UK.
Kevin Page, Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller, Carolin Rindfleisch, Richard Lewis, Laurence Dreyfus, and David De Roure (October 2015). ‘A toolkit for live annotation of opera performance: Experiences capturing Wagner's Ring Cycle’. In Proceedings of the International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference (ISMIR 2015). Málaga, Spain. [pdf]
Daniel Müllensiefen, David Baker, Christophe Rhodes, Tim Crawford, and Laurence Dreyfus (July 2014). ‘Recognition of leitmotives in Richard Wagner's music: chroma distance and listener expertise’. In Proceedings of the European Conference on Data Analysis. Bremen. [eprint |slides]