Wagner's leitmotifs were intentionally constructed as compact, discrete musical units charged with extramusical meaning. Should they be considered merely as arbitrary signifiers, whose signifieds are discovered only through the dramatic context of their appearance? The research reported here rejects this possibility, demonstrating experimentally that the leitmotifs bear inherent meaning. It is this meaning that grants them their communicative potential and provides a basis for the specific message given them in the setting of the specific musical work. A selection of nine representative leitmotifs from Wagner's Ring cycle was played to subjects during the course of a two-part experiment. The first part, which was designed on the basis of the semantic differential technique, yielded several significant factors that defined an inclusive connotative space. The second part of the experiment was designed and evaluated according to the "semantic integral" method, which was developed for the purpose of adding a denotative dimension, using titles given to the leitmotifs by the subjects. The results substantiated the existence of complementary relations between the connotative and denotative aspects of the leitmotifs. Findings of this sort should assist in explaining how the leitmotifs function within the dramatic context. The methods applied, as well as the findings arrived at, disclose, we believe, essential characteristics of the semantic structure of music in general.

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