The main essay is here. This is just my bookkeeping of every motif I’ve found, where I’ve found it, and my commentary on it, which has nothing to do with the Elsa being coded as aroace. If you’re a big enough music theory nerd that that sounds interesting to you, feel free to keep reading and share your thoughts in the comments. For everyone else, you’re probably better off skipping this.
As a refresher, here’re all the motifs I’ve found. Now, let’s go through them all.
1. Born of Cold
2. Frozen Heart
Many of the later occurrences of this motif are a lot slower, making it tricky but rewarding to notice. For whatever reason, the soundtrack version of “Treason” is missing a section of music where this motif appears, but it’s clearly audible in the movie. (The soundtracks actually deviate from the music in both films a surprising number of times.)
3a. Fear, 3b. Reharmonization of 3a in major
The most used motif, but also one of the most versatile. Throughout the franchise, its orchestration varies to indicate what kind of fear the characters are feeling. One of the best examples of this is “Sorcery”, when Elsa loses her glove, uses her powers, and runs away from the castle.
This motif is definitely related to and derived from 3a and 3b, but I feel like it’s distinct from them (especially when used in the later parts of Frozen II). Interestingly, this motif is originally introduced in “Elsa and Anna”, but not developed or reused until Frozen II.
5a. Sisters Apart, 5b. Reharmonization of 5a in major, 5c. Variation of 5a
The reharmonization of 5a is used to emphasize moments when Elsa and Anna aren’t separate.
6. Elsa Mourns Anna
I’m not very confident about the name of this motif or what it actually represents, but it occurs when young Elsa is upset at having struck Anna with her magic, and when adult Elsa is upset at having frozen Anna. The motif is surprisingly upbeat for its subject matter, so it could also refer to thawing the ice in Anna, or Elsa’s love for Anna as a way of healing the pain caused by her magic.
8. Concerning Thawing
I was torn on whether or not I should count this as a separate motif from 7, since it acts as the B section of music about the trolls. However, it’s specifically quoted when Olaf retells the events of Frozen (saying as Grand Pabbie “Only an act of true love can save you”), which is why I’ve decided to count it separately.
9. Build a Snowman
10. Don’t Let Them In
I’m not very confident about the name of this motif. For a while I thought of it as the “death” or “parental death” motif, but it also occurs in “Conceal, Don’t Feel” when neither of those ideas are particularly prominent. It could also have to do with feeling alone, but once again “Conceal, Don’t Feel” doesn’t fit as well as I’d like.
12. First Time in Forever
13. Anna and Hans
14. Snow Queen
This rhythmic motif occurs when Elsa is directly or indirectly an antagonist or obstacle to other characters.
15. Beginning an Adventure
This rhythmic motif plays when Anna, Kristoff, and Hans each set out on an adventure.
16. Let It Go
17a. Anna and Kristoff, 17b. Variation of 17a
Anna and Kristoff’s motif is particularly interesting, since it (I think intentionally) does “being a movie love theme” totally wrong. It technically fulfills both requirements to “use sixths” and “go up”, but the closest thing we get to a melodic “sixth” is actually a descending augmented fifth (C# to F natural). The ascending major sixth from E to C# is interrupted by D, the descending major sixth from D to F natural is interrupted by C#, and the rhythmic contour makes the motif feel like two descending gestures, instead of an ascending one. The closest that the Frozen franchise ever gets to a “romantic ascending sixth” moment is when Kristoff saves Anna from the earth giants in “Rude Awakening”, which lasts all of 6 seconds.
This rhythmic motif occurs at important moments when Anna starts to turn to ice.
19. Anna and Kristoff Separated
This motif is often paired with a slow occurrence of 2, which could represent the idea that “Anna’s heart is frozen because Kristoff left her”. 2 appears in Frozen II without 19, when Kristoff proposes to Anna in “Reunion”, and I’m not quite sure what to make of that. (“Anna’s heart was frozen, but is now thawed because she’s engaged to Kristoff”?) I’m not a fan of either of these interpretations, since they detract from the message of Frozen, so if you have alternate interpretations, let me know.
20. Kristoff Returns
21a. Northuldra, 21b. Reharmonization of 21a
This motif is first introduced as the second half of 21a, but it definitely gets developed into a distinct idea. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like this motif is fairly similar to the “History of the One Ring” motif from The Lord of the Rings. If it’s just a coincidence, it’s a brilliant coincidence, since it subtly suggests that the dam has a dark side to it.
This motif doesn’t occur in Frozen, but it almost occurs a few times in a soprano line during important moments of Elsa using her magic. I think that’s a lucky coincidence, but it gives even more weight to “Every day’s a little harder / As I feel my power grow”. Interestingly, the only time this motif is heard in the orchestration of Frozen II is in “All Is Found”. I think this is an intentional decision, meant to highlight the motivic and thematic work I talked about in “The Flood”.
24. North Wind
25. Dive Down Deep
26. Some Things Never Change
I’m on the fence about including this, since the orchestral reprise in “Epilogue” doesn’t feel very motivic, but its repetition is quite prominent, and it’s more motivic in character than Vuelie.
27. Sisters Together
28. Sisters Apart Truncated
This motif is definitely built from simply taking the first three notes of 5a, but I’m counting it as distinct because of the narrative and musical implications. First, this motif represents how Elsa and Anna are together and trust each other. Second, this motif is always harmonized ending on a major chord, and uses different scale degrees compared to 5a (“do ti mi la” for 5a versus “fa mi la” for 28, in movable do solfege).
Elsa’s response to the Siren, and later the Siren’s response to Elsa.
30a. Magic, 30b. Reharmonization of 30a
You could argue that the very beginning of “When I Am Older” features another variation of this motif, but it’s obscure enough that I’m not counting it.
Putting aside my bad transcription, calling this “Water” makes more sense than anything else I could come up with. “The Ship” and “Dark Sea” are fairly self explanatory, and while we don’t see the Nokk in “The Mist”, it serves as an introduction to the Enchanted Forest.
Once again, my transcription here is mediocre at best.
34. Fifth Spirit
After spending this much time thinking about Frozen, I can’t tell if I’m finding connections that are very well hidden, or convincing myself there’s something there where there’s nothing, but I’ve noticed something very interesting: this motif can be broken into three sub-motifs. The first three notes are almost 30b, the next three notes are 16, and the rest is almost 3a. That would make “Fifth Spirit” the sum of “Magic”, “Let It Go”, and “Fear”. Looking at the melody of “Come, my darling, homeward bound / When all is lost, then all is found”, we can break that into the same three motifs in the opposite order. “Come, my darl-” becomes “Fear”, “ing, homeward bound” becomes “Let It Go”, and “When all is lost, then all is found” becomes “Magic” (with an extra note to resolve to the tonic.) We’ve already seen the use of inversion with “Lost and Found” versus “Found and Lost”, so this analysis seems like it could be rewarding, but I’m not sure what it would reveal.
35. Next Right Thing
Interestingly, the part of “The Next Right Thing” that the orchestra quotes is not the actual lyrics “The next right thing”, but the passage right before it.
36. Dangerous Water
37. Becoming Yourself
This motif features at the end of “Dark Sea”, the piano bass line of “Show Yourself”, and a variation of it shifted up a diatonic step is featured in “The Flood”.
- There are some rhythmic psuedo-motifs in the Frozen franchise that indicate danger and make the on-screen action more exciting. Two prominent psuedo-motifs are hemiolas (“Sorcery”, “Dark Sea”, “Rude Awakening”, “The Flood”) and the use of 7/8 (“Summit Siege”, “Exodus”).
- Even though “Vuelie” is a repeated musical idea, I’m not counting it as a motif, because it functions more like a self-contained song than a modular idea.
- I still have some outstanding questions about the music of the Frozen franchise: Does the use of piano have any motivic or emotional meaning? What’s the significance of the “siren” motif only occurring when Elsa isn’t actively using magic? What’s the significance of the piano line before and during the second chorus in “Show Yourself”? What does analysis of the harmony and use of chromaticism reveal?
It’s entirely possible that I’ve missed or mislabeled motifs. (For example, I think there’s no wind motif because Gale has a specific sound effect, but I could be wrong.) So, feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.