A motive is the smallest identifiable musical idea. Motives may be developed into phrases, periods, full melodic ideas, and even entire large scale pieces.

For instance, the motive of Beethoven's fifth symphony is introduced first thing. The opening four notes (three eighth notes followed by a quarter note under fermata) outline everything that happens for the rest of ths symphony. The entire harmonic and melodic structure can be traced back to the minor third interval in the opening statement.

To begin a new piece, a composer will often times decide on a motivic subject and then develop it through exposition and improvisation (sometimes on paper, other times at the keyboard) until a solid, coherent thread of development is acheived.

Mo"tive (?), n. [F. motif, LL. motivum, from motivus moving, fr. L. movere, motum, to move. See Move.]


That which moves; a mover.




That which incites to action; anything prompting or exciting to choise, or moving the will; cause; reason; inducement; object.

By motive, I mean the whole of that which moves, excites, or invites the mind to volition, whether that be one thing singly, or many things conjunctively. J. Edwards.

3. Mus.

The theme or subject; a leading phrase or passage which is reproduced and varied through the course of a comor a movement; a short figure, or melodic germ, out of which a whole movement is develpoed. See also Leading motive, under Leading.

[Written also motivo.]

4. Fine Arts

That which produces conception, invention, or creation in the mind of the artist in undertaking his subject; the guiding or controlling idea manifested in a work of art, or any part of one.

Syn. -- Incentive; incitement; inducement; reason; spur; stimulus; cause. -- Motive, Inducement, Reason. Motive is the word originally used in speaking of that which determines the choice. We call it an inducement when it is attractive in its nature. We call it a reason when it is more immediately addressed to the intellect in the form of argument.


© Webster 1913.

Mo"tive, a.

Causing motion; having power to move, or tending to move; as, a motive argument; motive power.

"Motive faculty."

Bp. Wilkins.

Motive power Mach., a natural agent, as water, steam, wind, electricity, etc., used to impart motion to machinery; a motor; a mover.


© Webster 1913.

Mo"tive (?), v. t.

To prompt or incite by a motive or motives; to move.


© Webster 1913.

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