Music emotions and associations in film music listening: The example of leitmotifs from The Lord of the Rings movies

  • Maria Chełkowska-Zacharewicz University of Silesia in Katowice, Institute of Psychology
  • Mateusz Paliga University of Silesia in Katowice, Institute of Psychology
Keywords: film music, leitmotif, music-induced emotions, affect, The Lord of the Rings


The aim of the present study was to investigate which musical emotions and associations appeared while listening to leitmotifs in film music. A sample of 157 participants took part in the study, in which musical associations and emotions were analysed in relation to seven groups of musical themes from The Lord of the Rings films (LOTR). The LOTR soundtrack is a good example of the use of symbols in music to represent ideas, characters, etc. The results show that both the respondents’ associations and the musical emotions they experienced were related to the characteristics of musical motifs. The results are discussed in relation to the assumed features of musical motifs composed by Howard Shore.


Adams, D. (2010). The music of The Lord of the Rings films. Van Nuys: Alfred Publisher.

Bolivar, V. J., Cohen, A. J., & Fentress, J. C. (1994). Semantic and formal congruency in music and motion pictures: Effects on the interpretation of visual action. Psychomusicology, 13, 28–59.

Boltz, M. G. (2001). Musical soundtracks as a schematic influence on the cognitive processing of filmed events. Music Perception, 18, 427–454.

Boltz, M. G. (2004). The cognitive processing of film and musical soundtracks. Memory & Cognition, 32, 1194–1205.

Boltz, M. G., Schulkind, M., & Kantra, S. (1991). Effects of background music on the remembering of filmed events. Memory & Cognition, 19, 593–606.

Bordwell, D., & Thompson, K. (2008) Film art: An introduction (8th ed.). Boston, MA, US: McGraw Hill.

Chattah, J. (2006). Semiotics, pragmatics, and metaphor in film music analysis. Retrieved from

Chełkowska-Zacharewicz, M. (2017). Reagowanie na muzykę—afektywne podstawy i rola kontekstu poznawczego [Reacting to music: The affective basis and the role of the cognitive context] (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Silesia, Katowice, Poland.

Chełkowska-Zacharewicz, M., & Janowski, M. (in review). Polish adaptation of Geneva Emotional Music Scale (GEMS) – factor structure and reliability.

Chełkowska-Zacharewicz, M., & Janowski, M. (2016). Polska adaptacja Geneva Emotional Music Scale (GEMS) – badania wstępne. Polskie Pismo Muzykoterapeutyczne, 3, 44–63.

Cohen, A. J. (1993). Associationism and musical soundtrack phenomena. Contemporary Music Review, 9, 163–178.

Cohen, A. J. (1998). The functions of music in multimedia: A cognitive approach. In Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition (pp. 13–20). Seoul: Western Music Research Institute, Seoul National University.

Cohen, A. J. (2010). Music as a source of emotion in film. In J. A. Sloboda & P. N. Juslin (Eds.), Handbook of music and emotion. Theory, research, application (pp. 879–908). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cohen, A. J. (2014). Film music from the perspective of cognitive science. In D. Neumeyer (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of film music studies (pp. 96–130). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Coutinho, E., & Scherer, K. R. (2017). Introducing the Geneva Music-Induced Affect Checklist (GEMIAC): A brief instrument for the rapid assessment of musically induced emotions. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 34(4), 371–386.

Davies, S. (2010). Emotions expressed and aroused by music. Philosophical perspectives. In P. N. Juslin & J. A. Sloboda (Eds.), Handbook of music and emotion: Theory, research, applications (pp. 15–43). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.

DePree, K. M. (2017). Cue the music: Music in movies. The Research and Scholarship Symposium, 5, 1–25.

Gabrielsson, A. (2001). Emotion perceived and emotion felt: Same or different? Musicae Scientiae, Special Issue, 123–147.

Gabrielsson, A. (2010). Strong experiences with music. In P. N. Juslin & J. A. Sloboda (Eds.), Handbook of music and emotion: Theory, research, applications (pp. 547–574). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.

Green, J. (2010). Understanding the score: Film music communicating to and influencing the audience. The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 44(4), 81–94.

Hagen, E. (1971). Scoring for films: A complete text (vol. 1). New York, NY, US: Criterion Music Corp.

Hanning, B. (2002). Concise history of western music. New York, NY, US: W. W. Norton & Co.

Huron, D. (2007). Sweet anticipation: Music and the psychology of expectation. Cambridge, MA, US: The MIT Press.

Juslin, P. N. (2013a). What does music express? Basic emotions and beyond. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 596.

Juslin, P. N. (2013b). From everyday emotions to aesthetic emotions: Towards a unified theory of musical emotions. Physics of Life Reviews, 10(3), 235–266.

Juslin, P. N., Harmat, L., & Eerola, T. (2014). What makes music emotionally significant? Exploring the underlying mechanisms. Psychology of Music, 42(4), 599–623.

Juslin, P. N., Liljeström, S., Västfjäll, D., Barradas, G., & Silva, A. (2008). An experience sampling study of emotional reactions to music: Listener, music, and situation. Emotion, 8(5), 668–683.

Juslin, P. N., & Sloboda, J. A. (2010). Handbook of music and emotion: Theory, research, and applications. New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.

Juslin, P. N., & Sloboda, J. A. (2013). Music and emotion. In D. Deutsch (Ed.), The psychology of music (pp. 583–645). San Diego, CA, US: Elsevier Academic Press.

Juslin, P. N., & Västfjäll, D. (2008). Emotional responses to music: The need to consider underlying mechanisms. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31(5), 559–575; discussion 575–621.

Kallinen, K., & Ravaja, N. (2006). Emotion perceived and emotion felt: Same and different. Musicae Scientiae, 10(2), 191–213.

Konečni, V. J. (2008). A skeptical position on “musical emotions” and an alternative proposal. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31, 582–584.

Marchwica, W. M. (2018). Musical scenery: Utopia vs. arcadia in The Lord of the Rings (dir. Peter Jackson). Musica Iagellonica, 9, 127–142.

Marshall, S. K., & Cohen, A. J. (1988). Effects of musical soundtracks on attitudes toward animated geometric figures. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 6(1), 95–112.

Meyer, L. B. (1974). Emocja i znaczenie w muzyce [Emotion and meaning in music]. Kraków: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne.

Nagari, B. (2015). Music as image: Analytical psychology and music in film. New York, NY, US: Routledge.

Neumeyer, D. (Ed.) (2013). The Oxford handbook of film music studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Otero, T. P. (2015). Composition, variation and functions of the leitmotiv in the universe Indiana Jones. Revista de Comunicación de la SEECI, 19(37), 238–267.

Prendergast, R. M. (1992). Film music. A neglected art: A critical study of film music in films. New York, NY, US: W. W. Norton & Company.

Provenzano, C. (2008). Towards an aesthetic of film music: Musicology meets the film soundtrack. Music Reference Services Quarterly, 10, 79–94.

Reymore, L. (2018). Musical expression and embodiment: Fear, threat, and danger in the music of The Lord of the Rings. In R. Parncutt & S. Sattmann (Eds.), Proceedings of ICMPC15/ESCOM10. Graz, Austria: Centre for Systematic Musicology, University of Graz.

Richards, M. (2016). Film music themes: Analysis and corpus study. Music Theory Online – A Journal of the Society for Music Theory, 22(1), 1–27.

Saarikallio, S. (2011). Music as emotional self-regulation throughout adulthood. Psychology of Music, 39(3), 307–327.

Sebeok, T. (2001). Signs: An introduction to semiotics (2nd ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Tan, S. L., Spackman, M. P., & Bezdek, M. A. (2007). Viewers’ interpretation of film characters’ emotions: Effect of presenting film music before and after a character is shown. Music Perception, 25(2), 135–152.

Tan, S. L., Spackman, M. P., & Wakefield, E. M. (2017). The effects of diegetic and nondiegetic music on viewers’ interpretation of a film scene. Music Perception, 34(5), 135–152.

Thayer, J., & Levenson, R. (1983). Effects of music on psychophysiological responses to a stressful film. Psychomusicology, 3, 44–54.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (2002). Władca Pierścieni. T. 1: Drużyna Pierścienia [The Lord of the Rings. Vol. 1: The Fellowship of the Ring] (Maria Skibniewska, Trans.). Warsaw: Warszawskie Wydawnictwo Literackie MUZA SA.

Västfjäll, D. (2001). Emotion induction through music: A review of the musical mood induction procedure. Musicae Scientiae, 5(1 suppl), 173–211.

Vilaro, A., & Orero, P. (2013). Leitmotif in audio description: Anchoring information to optimise retrieval. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 3(5), 56–64.

Walus, B. P. (2012). A new modular approach to the composition of film music. Retrieved from

White, D. (2016). Middle-earth music: The sonic inhabitation of a fantasy world. Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, 13(1), 488–511.

Whittall, A. (2001). Leitmotif. In The new grove dictionary of music and musicians (2nd ed.,vol. 14, pp. 527–530). London: Macmillan.

Young, M. D. (2007). Projecting Tolkien’s musical worlds: A study of musical affect in Howard Shore’s soundtrack to Lord of the Rings. Saarbrücken: AV Akademikerverlag.

Zentner, M., Grandjean, D., & Scherer, K. R. (2008). Emotions evoked by the sound of music: Characterization, classification, and measurement. Emotion, 8(4), 494–521.