Just as literature can possess reoccurring themes called 'motifs', so can strains of music within a score of a film or television show. The tradition of the use of motifs in film score is actually an old idea which was derived from the German composers who coined the phrase, leitmotif ('leading motif') and made the practice popular. While the precise term, 'leitmotif' was first to explain the work of von Weber (1786-1826), it was Wagner (1813-1888) who is most commonly associated with popularizing their usage. His operas, which early film composers would later look to for inspiration, made liberal use of these leitmotifs, and consequently became a large part of scoring film and television.
The most common use of a musical motif ties a particular melody to a character, which is repeated in reference to that character. More complex motifs which reference feelings or ideas can also occur. They function quite interestingly on a subconscious level for the viewer to recall the visual or visuals previously associated with melody.
Motifs on Supernatural:
Because Supernatural has two composers, it is hard to keep up a truly consistent motif usage. Individually, each have introduced and used their own motifs for certain characters or ideas. It's debatable whether Gruska and Lennertz have been consciously willing to use the others motif for a specific instance a scene might relate to.
It's hard to purely quantify what the meaning of a repeated melody on the show might be. Sometimes, it means nothing. Composers on television recycle bits of score all the time. But sometimes a melody will be reused, and has a direct connection with its first use. These are the motifs I've listed below. Motifs were named purely based on the common thread that all its instances contained.
Derivatives of a theme are also commonly used in film score, where a motif is taken and manipulated in a meaningful way. For instance, flattening out the notes of a melody can illustrate metaphorically the loss of the idea that that melody previously represented.
Different forms of a theme through the use of different timbres can also be meaningful. Trumpets can be victory. Woodwinds can be warmth and safety. Violins can be the voice of a specific character.
All of this is of course hinged on the word 'can'. We can't actually know whether or not the meaning is there intentionally. These notes below are simply sketches of what was presented. Infer or not as you wish. (But really, that's half the motif fun!)
The YED's Theme: (the beginning of 'And So It Begins') ___________________________________________________________________ - = = - - = = | - | | ____________________________________________________________________
- 1.01 - Starts as Mary gets out of bed to check on Sammy
- 1.14 - Heard again as Max tells Sam his mother died in his nursery
- 4.03 - Heard as the YED brags to Dean about his endgame
- 4.06 - Heard as Dean's hallucination of Sam as he reveals his yellow eyes
- 4.06 - Heard as Dean's hallucination of Lilith reminds Dean how he remembers Hell
Silly Brothers Theme: ___________________________________________________________________ - - - - - ----- ----- - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - | | | | ____________________________________________________________________ - 1.01 - Electric guitar piece heard first as Dean and Sam get out of the Impala and impersonate U.S. Marshalls. - Heard again after they run into the REAL U.S. Marshalls a couple minutes later. - One bar of this piece is heard in the later bridge scene after Sam tells Dean he "smells like a toilet"* - 1.08 - Heard as Dean convinces Sam to squat in the model house for the night * - 1.14 - Heard at the end of the episode as Dean cracks his Vegas joke* - 1.17 - Heard as a response to Sam's prank of salsa-fying Dean's radio* - Heard as Dean slips pepper in Sam's pants while he takes a shower* - Heard again as Dean realizes his hand is stuck to the beer bottle and Sam celebrates in victory - 2.06 - Heard towards the end after Dean drives in with the cement truck - 4.06 - Heard as Dean is confronted by the ferocious dog that's been chasing him - 4.08 - Heard as Sam realizes who the "ghost" in the girl's locker room was *[thanks to stargatemouse for these finds]
Sam and John's Theme: __________________________________________________________ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - | | | | __________________________________________________________
- 1.04 - Heard at the end as Sam and Dean listen to John's new cell message
- 1.08 - A wavering, unsettled derivative heard as Sam tells Dean he wants to find John
- 1.20 - Heard as John tells Sam this was never the life he wanted for him
- 4.07 - Heard as Sam finishes ganking Samhain and notices Dean from afar
- 4.12 - Heard at the end of the episode as Sam makes his decision and opens up the car door to join Ruby
Dean's Family Dedication Theme: _________________________________________________ - - - - - - - - - - - - - | __________________________________________________ - 1.22 - Heard through Dean's "Things I'm willing to do" speech inside the cabin - 2.01 - Episode Theme (small strains are heard throughout the episode) - The pure form heard as John sits by Dean's bedside while Dean yells at him to do something - A distorted form heard as Tessa is revealed as the reaper and tries to convince Dean to let go - A piano and flute version heard as John's "You did that" speech to Dean - A higher octave flute w/ backed orch. version heard as Sam finds John dead - 2.09 - An acoustic version heard throughout Dean's "I'm tired" speech - 2.11 - Same acoustic version heard as Dean watches Drunk!Sam go to sleep after he made Dean swear to kill him if he goes dangerous. - 2.20 - Flattened form heard when Dean realizes Sam and him don't get along in Wishverse* - 2.21 - A brass form of the full theme heard as Sam dies in Dean's arms - 3.08 - A messily disguised derivative heard as Little!Sam gives Young!Dean his Christmas present - 3.16 - The full theme heard as Dean tells Sam they cannot keep making the same mistakes over again - 4.13 - A underdeveloped variation of the theme heard as teenage Dean announces he's a hero - 4.15 - The full theme heard as makes his Dean confession to Tessa - 4.15 - An eerily sharpened derivative heard as Dean critizes Alistair for his choice of murder tools - 4.21 - The full theme heard as Sam defiantly walks out the door against Dean's protests
*Score by Lennertz, so it's debatable whether its an intentional strain of Gruska's motif or not
DEAN THEME ANALYSIS:
Season Two Perspective
This theme could be heard in emotional scenes throughout the season, possessing a strong sense of meaning and purpose, adding dimension to the scenes it accompanied, and overall pulling the season together from bookend to bookend. After first appearing in Devil's Trap (1.22) to accompany Dean's speech fears for the things he is willing to do for his family, it becomes the major musical theme of the season two premiere, In My Time of Dying (2.01). In here, it is most notably paired with John and his silent decision to sacrifice himself to save Dean, suggesting his sacrifice was for Dean in response to everything Dean had given him and Sam over the years. Furthermore, its accompaniment to The Secret tells us of John's belief in Dean and power to watch over his family. As it is carried throughout the season, the theme references not only Dean's responsibility to keep Sam safe, but also the burden of The Secret, and marks Dean's weariness with this life, both in Croatoan (2.09) and Playthings (2.11). During Dean's Wish World in What Is, Lennertz quite brilliantly (whether intentional or not) references this theme in a flatten form of the theme's melody right as Dean realizes that the Sam in this world does not like or need him, and signifies the loss of that responsibility. Probably most memorable is its use at the end of All Hell Breaks Loose (Part 1) (2.21), as Dean holds a stabbed Sam and watches him die in his arms. This use all at once invokes the whole season and all of Dean's dedication towards his family right before your eyes, helping the viewer to mourn with Dean his complete loss of the most important people in his life and subsequent loss of purpose.
Season Three Perspective
In season three, the theme resurfaces exactly twice. In the flashback of ‘A Very Supernatural Christmas’, a messy disguised derivative of this theme begins as Little Sammy gives Young Dean his Christmas present (the amulet), effectively signifying the passing of responsibility of Sam from John to Dean. Existing not in the purified form which would characterize Dean’s dedication to his family almost twenty years later, but as this disguised derivative in which the core melody remains hidden beneath numerous filler noters surrounding it, perfectly characterizes the moment as the beginning of the dedication which would later result in the Dean we know today.
The purified theme is resurrected in the Season Three Finale, ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ as Dean tells Sam that they cannot keep making the same mistakes over again. The version used is identical to that first heard in the theme’s introduction during Dean’s “Things I’m Willing To Do” speech, which appropriately references back to that speech two years before, and with it, brings the accompanied imagery of the last three years, particularly family’s mistakes marked by John’s and Sam’s death, to the current scene at hand. Moreover, it stands to subvert that which was once considered sacred: The Dedication of the Winchester Family, as Dean explains to Sam how they need to stop being martyrs and making the same mistakes over again, bringing the theme and the idea behind it completely full circle. Perhaps we should have been calling this theme the Winchester Family Dedication Theme all along, but since Dean restates his role as the protector of the Winchester Constitution in the next breath, I feel confident in keeping it as is.
OTHER SPN SCORE POSTS:
- NEW!! Big Damn SPN S3 Score Post [Downloads]
- Season Two's Scoring Overview Meta
- Big Damn SPN S1 Score Post (IDs and Downloads)
- Dean's Family Dedication Theme [Downloads]
- List of Episodes for Each SPN Composer
- SPN Composer Interviews
- SPN Pilot: Comparing The Pre-Aired Score to Aired Version's
OTHER FANDOMS' SCORE POSTS
- Josh Kramon: Veronica Mars Score
- Greg Edmonson: Firefly Score