Definition and background:
A recurring motif in a composition (usually an opera) which represents a specific person, idea, or emotion. This term was first applied to the operas of Richard Wagner. use of a musical phrase to identify with a certain person, place or thing in a dramatic work, especially an opera, usually repeated every time its referent appeared in the work
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Wikipedia - Glossary of Musical Terminology
Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary
ORB -- Medieval Music Glossary