WDAV Blog

Daddy Dearest – or was he?

By Lawrence Toppman

Among musical anniversaries not celebrated in 2019, one stands out: Leopold Mozart was born 300 years ago on November 14. Of all the fathers in the history of classical music, he did the most to help and hinder a genius.

Peter Hall’s “Amadeus” (which debuted 40 years ago last week at London’s Royal National Theatre) found an antihero in Antonio Salieri: A composer of limited gifts who delights in Mozart’s music while jealously obsessing over him. That description might also be applied to Leopold.

On the plus side, he introduced the boy and his sister to European royalty on concert tours when they were keyboard prodigies; he continued to usher teenaged Wolfgang around after Nannerl dropped out. He became the first teacher for both while serving as deputy kapellmeister to the court at Salzburg, though he never achieved the position of kapellmeister (master of music).

He worked hard to find his son a permanent position in Salzburg, though without success and eventually against WAM’s wishes. The old man even took over the raising of little Leopold, his grandson, possibly to relieve the stress in Nannerl’s dysfunctional household and possibly in hopes of finding another wunderkind.

But on the other side…. He never granted Mozart the independence a young person needs to mature, bullying him in letters for as long as they corresponded. (Leopold died four years before his son, who was so estranged he didn’t know his father’s condition.) He warned Wolfgang against anything that would take him out of dad’s orbit and control, especially potential romantic entanglements and time spent in foreign cities.

At the same time, he complained about his own poverty – evidence about Leopold’s finances varies – to get Wolfgang to support him, and he seldom seems to have expressed interest in his son’s masterpieces after Wolfgang left home permanently in 1781. He even blamed the 22-year-old composer for neglect that led to his mother’s death, when she succumbed to an undiagnosed illness on a tour to Paris.

Leopold could write entertaining music. I like his Toy Symphony and especially his Peasant Wedding, which includes bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy and requires orchestra members to whoop and whistle. But his symphonies, concertos and serenades – all genres in which his son excelled – have been forgotten. Perhaps he anticipated that, and foreknowledge led to a toxic cocktail of love, envy and self-pity.

Pictured: By Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni (*1721, †1782) – online source; Held by the Mozart museum at Mozart’s birthplace, Public Domain.

Review: ‘Pipe Dreams’ Strikes A Competitive Chord

By Lawrence Toppman

If you’re an organ fan, you’ll swoon when the five competitors in “Pipe Dreams” attack the keyboards at an international competition in Montreal. Even if you’re not, you’ll feel extra energy when talking heads give way to flying fingers and nimble feet.

Though the King of Instruments produces a droning appeal in the hands of any plebeian player, here it roars and chirps and grunts and hollers with joy. Of course, most of the documentary depicts these musicians practicing and philosophizing and doing mundane things, presented in a mundane and not always compelling way. But when they play, it rises to another sphere.

Writer-director-producer Stacey Tenenbaum often skirts important questions a viewer might have: What do judges look for at international competitions? What kinds of lives do these rising stars have away from the instrument? (Maybe none.) What made the players fall in love with organs, anyhow – we do get a bit of that – and what makes this contest different from a piano or violin showdown? What kinds of futures do they envision for themselves?

The organists all seem good-natured, proud yet modest. We root equally for 19-year-old Sebastian Heindl, a Leipziger from the city of Sebastian Bach; Yuan Shen, a Chinese woman whose father is her mentor and tai chi partner; Thomas Gaynor, a New Zealander who’s burning out on major competitions; Alcee Chriss III, a Texan who flirts with the idea of throwing in some jazz; and Nick Cappozoli, a Pittsburgher whose teacher approves of his technique but urges him to be more daring.

Yet great documentaries give us someone to root against: an egomaniacal competitor, a ruthless tyrant, a company that’s defrauding people or polluting the skies. We have to want someone to win and someone to lose. There’s mild interest here in who will come out on top. But as we don’t want anyone in particular to triumph, and we don’t know why one player is considered better than another, we mostly sit back and enjoy marvelous sounds. (Alas, Tenenbaum doesn’t identify pieces as we listen.)

The film sent me to my music collection, where I put on Bach’s fugues and preludes, a “symphony” by Charles Widor (as he called solo pieces), even Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony. (That’s his third, which the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra will perform in March at Belk Theater. I’m not sure how, as the gorgeous pipes at the rear of the stage aren’t connected to anything.) Ultimately, the best thing about “Pipe Dreams” was that it had me pondering the glories of the organ all over again.

Pipe Dreams’ is playing in select screenings across the country. Learn more about a screening of the film in Charlotte on November 20. And use the code PIPEdreams10 for 10% off your ticket.

A keyboard in every home? Once upon a time….

By Lawrence Toppman

At the age of 7, when I visited my Aunt Nan and Uncle Milt in northern New Jersey, I knew they had more money than my parents: They owned a baby grand piano.

I never saw them or my two cousins play a note; it sat, impassive and unloved, in their living room. Why was it there? Because when my aunt grew up in the 1920s, every reasonably affluent family had a piano.That had been true for more than 150 years, and it’s one reason Mozart wrote so many keyboard works. He created the concertos mostly as showpieces for himself and the harder sonatas for gifted amateurs. But he aimed easier sonatas and works for four hands at one keyboard toward modestly talented pianists, who played at family gatherings or among friends.

These compositions kept Mozart, Beethoven (who preferred songs) and Schubert in business when commissions became scarce. Brahms and Dvorak achieved widespread fame not with great symphonies, which critics and upper-class listeners embraced, but with the publication of dances – Hungarian for Brahms, Slavonic for Dvorak – which could be played at home.

As we zombify ourselves with social media, the notion of socializing around a piano bench appears laughably archaic. Even the idea of singing and dancing in a pub or beer garden seems like something we’d see in a movie about life in Europe before World War II.

Yet young men and women of various classes took piano lessons in cities and small towns right up until The Depression. If you had enough money for an upright, a teacher came to you; if not, you went to her. (They were generally female.) Boys and girls courted across keyboards, singing and playing romantic ballads. Mothers instilled seeds of culture in reluctant youngsters through Dvorak’s Humoresque No. 7 and Beethoven’s Minuet in G. (See “The Music Man.”)

Radio and the international economic slump of the 1930s dealt the first serious blow to home piano playing. Television delivered the fatal punch in the 1950s, abetted by transistor radios and long-playing records: If you could carry music everywhere, you never needed to make any yourself.
The dust on my aunt’s piano deepened, and its top became a repository for photos or drinks at parties. The disconnection of family members, so loudly lamented today, had begun in earnest.

More milk! Bigger children! But not sexier sharks.

By Lawrence Toppman

I appreciate BBC Music Magazine’s propensity for offbeat articles about classical music. A piece earlier this year made me guffaw when it summed up 15 experiments in which Mozart’s music did or didn’t change animals and plants.

According to Spanish dairy farmer Hans Pieter Sieber, WAM’s Concerto for Flute and Harp not only calmed cows but inspired them to produce up to six extra quarts of milk. (Daily? It doesn’t specify.) Dogs at an RSPCA rescue center in Somerset, England, calmed down noticeably when exposed to the strains of Mozart and Bach.

Mozart also gets credit for increasing brainpower and robustness. University of Wisconsin researcher Frances Rauscher discovered rats could negotiate a maze twice as quickly after repeatedly hearing Mozart’s Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos.

Doctors in Tel Aviv learned premature human babies profit from doses of WAM: They grow faster, perhaps because they use less energy when lying back to this lovely music than thrashing around in silence. Dr. Dror Mandel thinks weight gain may be due to “The repetitive melodies in Mozart’s music…affecting organizational centers of the brain’s cortex.”

Even plants respond positively. Carlo Cignozzi, a Tuscany winemaker, has sent “The Magic Flute” through his Brunello orchards on loudspeakers since 2005. The grapes, he claims, ripened in 14 days instead of 20, increasing the alcohol content; he christened the product “Brunello Magico.”

Why do we want to believe classical music makes us smarter or bigger or spiritually enriched? Could it be because we’re always looking for magic bullets to give us – or our kids, cows, dogs and rats – a leg up on others? Do want to prove to the world that this art form, in which interest has slowly dwindled over the last 100 years, has non-artistic value? This smacks of the argument that utility is all-important: We can’t let rainforest plants die off because their petals may have disease-fighting properties, not just because the world would be poorer without their beauty.

Sadly, sharks don’t seem to benefit from Mozart. The Blackpool Sea Life Center (also in England) tried to get a 20-year-old male brown shark interested in a 15-year-old female by playing the Romanza movement of “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” but no babies came out of this endeavor. Maybe they’d have been more enthused about John Williams’ theme from “Jaws.”

Infrasound: The Terrifying Tonality

By Owen Wood

As my classmates have been demonstrating in their posts, sound design and music are crucial parts of horror films. From the use of tritones to music signaling or free atonality, audible sound has a long history of creating a terrifying experience for moviegoers. However, we are still very much terrified and unsettled by sounds that we are unable to hear, known as “Infrasound”.

 The normal range of hearing for human beings falls between 20 and 20,000 Hertz. Any sound below 20 Hz is known as infrasound. Infrasound occurs naturally, resulting from waterfalls, thunderstorms, earthquakes, and many other phenomena. Additionally, infrasound is produced by man-made sources such as aircraft, diesel engines, ventilation systems and more.[1]

While we can hear the higher frequencies produced by these objects and events, we are unable to hear the frequencies below 20 Hz. Nevertheless, we still perceive these sound waves through the sense of touch in the same way that we feel vibrations.The ability to perceive infrasound without being able to explicitly “hear” it is an unsettling phenomenon, as its effects are unexpected.[2]

In some cases, these effects are mistakenly attributed to paranormal activity and haunting. Tandy and Lawrence found that some infrasound frequencies caused both physiological (nausea, vertigo, etc.) and psychological (anxiety, troubling thoughts, etc.) responses, which strengthen fears and notions of paranormal activity.[3]

 Filmmakers use this harrowing phenomenon to their advantage. By utilizing the subwoofers of movie theaters, filmmakers can psychologically and physiologically manipulate the audience into feeling a sense of fear and uncertainty without their knowing. Professor Nick Redfern discusses the use of infrasound in the short horror film Behold the Noose.[4]

The film follows a deputy as he investigates the murder of a young girl at a farmstead. Throughout the film, infrasound of 10-20 Hz occurs in all scenes featuring the deputy, creating a sense of anxiety associated with his character.

Near the end of the film, when the deputy discovers a skull and is led to his death, infrasound of 5-10 Hz occurs to represent the deputy’s intensifying sense of dread and anxiety.[5]

This technique can be used in a number of interesting ways in film production, such as building anxiety before crucial scares, heightening unsettling feelings during disturbing scenes, and even as a constant drone which disappears right before jump scares to give audiences a false sense of safety.

Fluctuations in frequency and amplitude are also components of infrasound use in horror film, as heard in Behold the Noose.[6] Listen to an example of infrasound below:

17 Hz infrasound: Wearing earbuds, turning the volume to maximum, and pressing them into your ears with your fingers can help you feel the infrasound.

Even when we can’t hear it, music and sound design in horror play an important role in the overall impact that horror films have on viewers. As is the case for infrasound, which can cause feelings of dread and anxiety, supplementing the effects that visuals and audible sounds have on moviegoers. The next time you watch a horror film, consider the scenes that cause particular dread and discomfort, and consider the sounds that are being used, as there may be more than meets the ear.

Owen WoodSenior Owen Wood is a Psychology and Music double major from Winston-Salem, NC. A multi-instrumentalist, Owen plays drums in the Jazz Ensemble, bass in the Jazz Combo, as well as trombone, piano, and guitar. Owen enjoys performing, composing, and producing a wide range of musical styles from Jazz to Classical and everything in between.


[1] U. Landström, “Human Effects on Infrasound,” (paper presented at inter.noise 2000: The 29th International Congress and Exhibition on Noise Control Engineering, 27-30 August, 2000, Nice, France), available online.

[2] S. T. Parsons, “Infrasound and the Paranormal,” Journal of the Society of Psychical Research 76/908 (2012), 150–74.

[3] Vic Tandy and Tony R Lawrence, “The Ghost in the Machine,” Journal for the Society for Psychical Research 62/851 (April 1988), 37–57.

[4]-[6] Nick Redfern, “Quantitative Analysis of Sound in a Short Horror Film,” July 2015.

The Art of Anticipation in The Shining’s Bicycle Scene

By Morgan Potter

Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic The Shining has been lauded time and again for its masterful manipulation of the audience’s sense of dread and anticipation even—or especially—when no immediate threat is discernible. How can such scenes fill us with feelings of dread? 

The subtle but highly effective uses of cinematography, sound design, and scoring to evoke the audience’s terror is best exemplified by the suspense of a seemingly innocent scene—a young boy riding his tricycle. The scene begins with Danny riding his small plastic trike, emblematic of childhood innocence, through the empty, yet ostensibly benign halls of the hotel in which the movie is set.

Despite this benevolent setup, almost as soon as the scene begins can the audience be expected to feel a growing suspense; the steadishot used in the scene, placed right behind Danny’s trike as it rolls through the halls, creates an illusion of stillness in the trike as the walls instead rush and close in around us. 

In the beginning, there is no music—there are no sounds emanating from the various rooms of the hotel at all, apart from the clatter of the trike’s plastic wheels; not even the refrigerator buzzes as it flies by.

It is the subtle but expert framing of the scene that leaves the audience in dread, apart from any of the visual content of the scene itself, and while the dread is unmistakable, its source is not, amplifying the effect, punctuated by the brief moments of even greater silence when Danny rides his bike over carpet, in quietly disturbing moments of sensory deprivation.

When music begins, it is a low and quiet melody heralded by a trepidatious ringing, that is slowly overtaken by a wave of the quiet, but cacophonous shivering of violins—the sound like that of a swarm of flies.

When Danny stops his trike in front of room 237, there is nothing apparent in its presence to make us fearful; however, at this moment the strings drip into a disjoint, atonal melody—the music is obscure and unpredictable, evoking a similar fear for whatever lies behind the locked door.

The melody swells and the buzzing grows and it rises and falls like howling wind or distant screams—the ringing returns like blood dripping slowly to a puddle—and then are we finally given a source for our mounting fear—the twin girls that flash before Danny’s eyes before they are gone in an instant, and the music swells with the growing terror and suspense that the we were so carefully primed—by the cinematography, sound, and scoring all together–to experience.


Morgan PotterMorgan Potter is a senior majoring in biology and music.

The Use of Character Leitmotifs in Bride of Frankenstein

By Emily Banks

In Bride of Frankenstein (1935), “the creation of a female mate for the monster” is the main concern of the film. 1 The viewer encounters horror with a twist of comedy in this film, which, according to Young, “refracts a series of social anxieties.”

Within this masterwork of horror film and horror film music, composer Franz Waxman supplies the audience with a film score that leads one through a panoply of emotional reactions. From joyful reunions to fits of terror, the film music consistently lends itself to the demands of the picture.

In addition to the familiar use of unprepared and unresolved dissonances and driving rhythmic devices to build tension with the arrival of the film’s titular monsters, Waxman also uses leitmotifs to clearly announce the approach or arrival of specific characters, such as Frankenstein’s creature and his newly-constructed bride.

To create a distinctive sound for the creature’s bride, Waxman utilized church bells upon her introduction in the film, bells that sound similar to the kind typically heard at weddings. This musical device clearly marks her as a bride, which helps to definitively establish her role in the film while simultaneously representing the joy of Frankenstein’s achievement.


Whenever the monster approaches or appears in a threatening manner, Waxman used what William H. Rosar describes as a “simple five-note motif for the monster…which suggests the monster’s growl in the fourth note by having the brass play with flutter-tongue,” and that fourth note in the creature’s motif rests on a dissonant minor second.2


The dissonance creates tension that easily leads the viewer to a feeling of anxiety and a yearning for resolution. An especially clever use of this motif occurs at the very end of the film. As the human baron and (potential) baroness flee the exploding laboratory, we hear the motif played at a much faster tempo, demonstrating the danger the monster is in.

Once the building has been destroyed, we hear the motif one final time, but instead of finishing the melodic idea, Waxman instead leaves it unresolved and moves into a consonant melody ending on a major chord, giving the viewer a feeling of finality and resolution and allowing us to conclude that the monster has at last been destroyed, and normalcy has been restored…at least until the next sequel.


Emily BanksEmily Banks is a senior music major from Austin, Texas. At Davidson College she participates in the Davidson College Chorale, Collegium Musicum, and voice lessons.


1Elizabeth Young, “Here Comes the Bride: Wedding, Gender, and Race in Bride of Frankenstein,” in The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, edited by Barry Keith Grant (University of Texas Press, 2015), 361.

2“Music for the Monsters: Universal Pictures’ Horror Film Scores of the Thirties,” The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 40/4 (1983), 409.

Abject and Exotic Sounds in Nosferatu

By Will Messner

Films in the 1920s were accompanied by live music; the music would have been performed by a solo pianist, an organist, or a small orchestra, depending on the venue and the available musicians.

There were collections of pre-composed music, called photoplay music, that could be used typical scenes that would come up over and over again, like music for chases or music for sneaking around or music for death scenes.

Some of the photoplay collections included generic stereotypical music for anything regarded as exotic and non-Western. For example, volume one of the Sam Fox Moving Picture Music (1918), and there were even collections devoted just to exotic stereotypes, like Jacobs’ Piano Folio of Oriental, Spanish, and Indian Music for Racial and National Atmosphere (1917). (See figures 1 and 2 below.)

Sheet music: Oriental Music and No. 1 Jacobs' Piano Folio Oriental Spanish and Indian Music.
Sheet music: Oriental Music and No. 1 Jacobs’ Piano Folio Oriental Spanish and Indian Music.

These stereotypical cues often used the same interval of the augmented second to mark something as generally Middle Eastern or Asian.

German director F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), an unauthorized re-telling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula made nearly a decade before Hollywood cast Bela Legosi in the titular role; Hans Erdmann’s score, which was played live with the film when it was first released, has exotic sounds that trigger an abject feeling that transports us to the land of ghosts.


As Hutter, our protagonist, begins his travels to Count Orlock’s castle early in the movie, a pan-flute like recurrent musical motif begins to play. This motif creates tension due to the repetition and monotony of the exotic sounding melody; this theme gets gradually faster as the speed of the horses increases.

Soon after the men driving the carriage refuse to take Hutter further, the motif stops and is replaced by minor orchestral melodies as Count Orlock (actually the vampire Nosferatu) arrives to drive Hutter the rest of the way up to the castle. 

When he and his horses come into the scene, the motif returns with the same instrumentation, although it is nearly double the original tempo. At the end of the scene, Orlock leaves Hutter, and as Orlock and his horses leave, the motif comes back and rapidly trails off until Orlock is out of view.  This choice to have the exotic motif leave with the monster is a clever choice of association. The recurrent motif, one utilizing musical markers of exoticism, was meant to be for Nosferatu because he is the monster. 

William MessnerWilliam Messner is a Senior Music Major and Digital Studies Minor at Davidson College who plans on working in the Music Industry after Graduation.