Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Happy New Year from 90.9 WGUC!

Happy New Year from Clef Notes and 90.9 WGUC, Cincinnati’s Classical Public Radio! If you’re looking for great music to accompany your New Year’s Day, join us from 8pm until 10pm for the annual New Year’s Day from Vienna. You can also listen online at wguc.org or with the free mobile app.

As we close up 2016 and enter the new year, we need your help. First, what were some of your favorite posts/topics discussed on Clef Notes in 2016? Second, are there any specific topics you would like to learn more about in 2017?

Thanks for your input and have a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Happy Holidays from 90.9 WGUC!

Needing some great music to accompany your holiday activities? Tune into 90.9 WGUC for excellent classical programming for Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year. You can also join us for several specials on the following days:

Thursday, December 22, 7:00 PM
St. Olaf Christmas Festival: A service in song and word that has become one of the nation’s most cherished holiday celebrations. Tickets to the event - which takes place at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN - are always gone months in advance. The festival includes hymns, carols, choral works, as well as orchestral selections celebrating the Nativity and featuring more than 500 student musicians in five choirs and the St. Olaf Orchestra.

Friday, December 23, 6:00 PM
A Chanticleer Christmas: A one-hour program of holiday favorites, new and old, presented live in concert by the superb 12-man ensemble known as "an orchestra of voices."

Saturday, December 24, 10:00 AM
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: Hosted by Michael Barone, this is a live service of spoken-word and music (choral and organ) broadcast from the chapel of King's College in Cambridge, England. The 30-voice King's College Choir performs the legendary Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols service of Biblical readings and music.

Sunday, December 25, 8:00 PM
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols: ENCORE

Monday, December 26, 6:00 PM
Candles Burning Brightly: A one-hour celebration of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights with an exploration of Hanukkah foods and traditional activities ... and plenty of music.

Wednesday, December 28, 7:00 PM
Music of Hanukkah: Our annual celebration with stories and music, hosted by Naomi Lewin.

Friday, December 30, 6:00 PM
Itzhak Perlman’s Hanukkah Radio Party: Itzhak Perlman invites you to his Hanukkah Radio Party.  Join the superstar violinist as he tells the story of the Jewish festival of lights, and shares his favorite recordings for the holiday – some serious, some silly.  This engaging one-hour special includes numbers from Itzhak Perlman’s radio-addicted childhood in Israel; evocative songs in Yiddish and Ladino; classical music that revolves around the Maccabee heroes of the story; and Hanukkah gems by American folk singers.  The master storyteller also regales you with jokes and memories, plus tales of three classic Hanukkah symbols: the menorah, the latke, and, of course, the dreidel.  A good time for the whole family, at Itzhak Perlman’s Hanukkah Radio Party!

Sunday, January 1, 8:00 PM
New Year’s Day from Vienna 2017: The Vienna Philharmonic presents its ever popular annual New Year's Day concert from the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna. You'll hear your favorite waltzes, polkas and more -- a festive way to start off the New Year. Presented by NPR Music.

90.9’s programming is also available on our website or with the free mobile app for those tuning in from out of town or if you’re traveling during the holidays!

From all of your friends at 90.9 WGUC, happy holidays!

Monday, December 19, 2016

O magnum mysterium

In light of Christmas this week, I thought it would be appropriate to contemplate the beauty and meaning in an ancient Christmas text, O magnum mysterium. Below you can read the English translation of this text and then I’ve followed it with five musical settings. Which is your favorite, or do you have another favorite that is not listed here?

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Celebration of Beethoven's Life

In light of it being Beethoven’s birthday week, I thought it would be fun to gather a list of some of my favorite Beethoven works. This was more difficult than I anticipated, however, because really all of his works are great! Therefore, I limited myself to ten favorites. What would you add to the list?

Want even more of Beethoven? Check out Spotify for a Beethoven’s Birthday Playlist and don't forget to celebrate on December 16! 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Nationalism in Music

Over the past month, we have looked at composers whose music finds influence in nationalism. We’ve looked at music characterized by traits from Hungary, Poland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, and Romania. There are many other composers and countries not represented in this month’s blog. Do you have a favorite nationalist composer you’d like to learn more about? Comment below you your suggestion may be considered for a future Clef Notes post on nationalism!

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Romanian Rhapsodies of Georges Enesco

Let’s talk about music from Romania! Georges Enesco (1881–1955) was a virtuoso violinist during his day, and also known for composing works that drew from his native Romania. The talented Enesco entered conservatory at the young age of seven. He is known primarily for his violin and piano sonatas, string quartets, symphonies, and opera. Most famous of all, though, are his Romanian Rhapsodies, specifically the first.

The Romanian Rhapsody #1 draws from folk tunes, using songs and dances popular in Romania. It is thought that Enesco also found inspiration in Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies when writing this work. Does this piece sound folksy to you?

Enesco was not happy that his Romanian Rhapsodies became his most well-liked pieces as he considered them to be works of his youth.

Join me next time as we wrap up our look at nationalism in music! 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Goyescas: A Piano Suite and an Opera

Last time we looked at the Spanish flavor found in the music of Isaac Albeniz. Today, let’s look at Enrique Granados (1867–1916), who often collaborated with Albeniz during his lifetime. Like Albeniz, Granados was a pianist who studied with Spanish nationalist Felipe Pedrell. He is primarily known for his piano works, chamber music, opera and other vocal works, and symphonic poems. His piano suite Goyescas (1911) is perhaps what he is best known for. This piece provides Granados’ reflections on the artwork of Spanish painter Francisco de Goya. Granados believed de Goya’s work exceptionally displayed a Spanish character that he hoped to convey in his own suite. Following the completion of the piano suite, he went on to adapt the work into an opera that premiered in New York City in 1916. While traveling home from the premiere, Granados drowned in the English Channel after his boat was torpedoed.
Here you can enjoy Goyescas both as the piano suite and the opera by Granados. Do you sense a Spanish character?

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Spanish Flavor of Isaac Albeniz

Isaac Albeniz (1860–1909) was a piano prodigy who was known for using Spanish nationalism in his music. It is only fitting that we listen to his music during our series on nationalism in music.

 After studying at conservatory and dabbling in composition, Isaac Albeniz found his musical voice after working with Felipe Pedrell, who sparked Albeniz’s interest in nationalism and writing music inspired by the folk tunes from his native country. Albeniz is primarily known for his piano works, many whose melodies, harmonies, and rhythms find inspiration in the sounds of Spain. One of his most famous works, Iberia, is a suite of twelve piano works broken into four books. Written in the early twentieth century, Iberia is not necessarily meant to be performed in its entirety, and may be played in any order the pianist prefers. The work is known for its difficulty and since its conception, has been orchestrated by various composers over the last century. Like many of Albeniz’s works, Iberia draws from Spanish influences. A piece in Book 1, for instance, is a musical portrait of Cadiz. A selection in Book 3 depicts the gypsy quartet in Granada. Let’s listen to a portion, “El Albaicin,” from Book 3.

It’s interesting to note that, while Albeniz was born in Spain and quite nationalistic, he actually spent the majority of his life living outside of his native land.

Who else can you think of who writes in a Spanish flavor? We’ll look at another example next time!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving from 90.9 WGUC!

Happy Thanksgiving! If you are interested in a playlist to accompany your festivities today, please see my last post that features a list of famous, American works.

As you stop to celebrate this important American holiday, why not take the time to reflect: what are you thankful for?

Just a reminder that we have several Thanksgiving specials airing on 90.9 WGUC today to accompany your holiday activities! These will be available on-air on 90.9, online at wguc.org, or you can take us anywhere with our free mobile app! Below is the schedule:

10:00 AM: Feast for the Ears with Mark Perzel

6:00 PM: Giving Thanks 2016: With music and stories for Thanksgiving, host John Birge creates a thoughtful, contemporary reflection on the meaning of the holiday.

Monday, November 21, 2016

American Music for Thanksgiving Week

This week we gather with our loved ones and remember our nation’s history, reflect on what we’re thankful for in life, and eat good food! Have you ever thought about what music best exhibits an American national sound? In honor of this great American holiday, let’s talk about composers who succeeded in creating American nationalism in their music. Below, I list several American composers with example works but the list is by no means exhaustive. What other works/composers can you think of? Please provide examples of your favorites!

This week on WGUC we will offer several Thanksgiving specials to accompany your festivities. Below is a schedule of our offerings. These will be available on-air on 90.9, online at wguc.org, or you can take us anywhere with our free mobile app!

Thursday, November 24, 10:00 AM
Feast for the Ears with Mark Perzel

Thursday, November 24, 6:00 PM

Giving Thanks 2016: With music and stories for Thanksgiving, host John Birge creates a thoughtful, contemporary reflection on the meaning of the holiday.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Alexander Mackenzie's Pibroch Suite

Last time we looked at the music of Edward Elgar of England. Did you know he was a big fan of Scottish composer Alexander Mackenzie (1847–1935)? Mackenzie is not well known today compared to composers such as Elgar, but during his time, he was well-received. He grew up surrounded by music, beginning to play violin at a young age and then moving onto composition. He was known for his operas, oratorios, orchestral works, and chamber pieces. 

Today, let’s look at Mackenzie’s Pibroch Suite, a piece titled for theme and variation music written for Scottish bagpipes. This piece was dedicated to Pablo de Sarasate, who requested a piece that reflected Mackenzie’s native land. The piece includes Celtic characteristics including Scotch snaps and theme and variations on several traditional Scottish tunes including “There’s Three Good Fellows Down in Yon Glen.” 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Origins of Pomp and Circumstance

Clef Notes is on the road this month, traveling around the world and looking at how different composers exhibit nationalism in their music. This week, let’s stop in the United Kingdom where Edward Elgar (1857–1934) became the first English composer to really make a name for himself since Henry Purcell in the 17th century!

The son of an organist, Elgar grew up around music and learned to play violin, bassoon, and organ. He had no formal training in composition however must have been a natural because he quickly moved to prominence and will forever be remembered as one of England’s greatest composers. His Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 was written in 1901 and became the first of five marches that contained this name inspired by England’s own William Shakespeare (this phrase came from Othello). Today, most people recognize this march as the processional used during graduation ceremonies.

Elgar was a big fan of Scottish composer Alexander Mackenzie. We will look at how he used nationalism in his music next time.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Penderecki and Nationalism

Grammy award-winning composer Krzysztof Penderecki (1933) provides a great modern-day example of a composer who uses nationalistic qualities in music. Penderecki grew up exposed to music, learning violin and piano as a child. His career as a composer began after he won first prizes in a contest set up by the Polish Composer’s Union in which he submitted three of his works under pseudonyms.

His Polish Requiem provides a great example of a piece with ties to his native Poland. Written for four solo voices, mixed choir, and orchestra, the requiem was written in several stages over a period of time. Penderecki dedicated the work to Poland’s suffering during the period of Martial Law.

A Polish hymn, Holy God, is used in Penderecki’s requiem. Today I’d like to listen to the “Lacrimosa” portion of the Polish Requeim, which was written earlier on in Penderecki’s career and later incorporated into the requiem. This piece was used during the unveiling of a memorial for those killed in the 1970 shipyard riots in Gdansk. 

Next week we head to England for music by Elgar and Mackenzie!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Nationalism Found in the Mazurka

We’re in Poland this week on Clef Notes, looking at how two Polish composers used nationalism in their work. Let’s begin with Frederic Chopin (1810–1849), who is known primarily for both performing on, and composing for the piano.

During Chopin’s short life, he became quite popular with high society. Many elite sought to study with him, paying high prices just so they could say they studied with this pianist who only performed in private settings. In Poland, people enjoyed Chopin’s use of nationalism in some of his music. One example would be the many mazurkas he wrote for his piano students to play. The mazurka is a Polish folk dance that eventually developed into a ballroom dance. Chopin wrote stylized versions of this dance. His Opus 7, No. 1 in B-flat major provides a great example, using the traditional mazurka meter, rhythms, as well as the use of trills, grace notes in leaps often found in this dance form.

Who else used Polish qualities in their music? Find out next time!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Hungarian Influences in Dances of Galanta

This week, Clef Notes travels to Hungary, where we are looking at the use of the region’s folk music in a classical format. Last time, we looked at Bela Bartok, who worked alongside Zoltan Kodaly (1882–1967) to publish folk song collections.

Kodaly is known as a composer, teacher, and ethnomusicologist, who worked at the Budapest Academy of Music. Like Bartok, Kodaly grew up around music, supported by his parents. Many of his works contain Hungarian folk influences, including his Dances of Galanta. As a child, he experienced gypsy band music while passing through the Hungarian town Galanta. Some of these Hungarian tunes were later published in an edition and used as inspiration for this work.

Stay tuned next week as we head to Poland!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Classical Music of Hungary

Throughout history, nationalism has affected the music of many composers. Defined as “devotion and loyalty to one’s own country,” nationalism takes on many guises in music. While some composers use folk songs from their native lands, some may write music to reflect the visual images of their homeland. This month, Clef Notes travels to different areas across the globe, examining how composers use nationalism in their music. This week, we begin with Hungary.

Bela Bartok (1881–1945) is known as a talented pianist, composer, teacher, and one of the first practicing ethnomusicologists. He grew up in a musical family, studying piano and composition at the Hungarian Royal Academy of Music in Budapest where he later returned to teach. He had a passion for the folk music of Hungary, Romania, and the surrounding areas, and spent much of his time collecting peasant songs and dances. Many of these were edited and made into collections. Bartok also arranged folk tunes and wrote some of his own works based on these traditional tunes. 

Staccato and Legato from Mikrokosmos is just one of many examples of a piece Bartok wrote that combines folk peasant music of the region with classical tradition. It contains qualities attributed to J.S. Bach, but also a melody that mirrors ideas used in Hungarian songs. 

Bartok spent part of his life working at the Academy of Sciences as an ethnomusicologist. There, he worked alongside another prominent Hungarian musician, Zoltan Kodaly. We will learn more about him next time!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Musical Reflections of Autumn

This month, Clef Notes is looking at music for the four seasons and today, we finally make it to the current season, autumn. What music moves your mind to reflect on the colorful sunsets, falling leaves, and crisp temperatures we experience during autumn in Cincinnati? Today, we’ll look at one piece that uses “autumn” in its title, and another that is more appropriate for Thanksgiving, a very autumnal holiday.

One would think that Edvard Grieg wrote his In Autumn sometime between the months of September and November, but in actuality, he composed the work during the winter of 1865 and 1866 while visiting Rome. At first, he was not pleased with his orchestration for the work so he only published a piano duet version. He later re-orchestrated the piece in 1887. In Autumn contains three sections with a unifying theme. Part of this concert overture comes from a song Grieg wrote in 1865 titled The Autumn Storm. He also pulls from folk elements including a dance from his native land, Norway. Do you find that Grieg’s piece musically reflects the way you picture autumn? If not, do you have another piece you prefer?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Not only does it occur in autumn, but there are plenty of autumnal characteristics that surround it. Joseph Curiale wrote his Prairie Hymn as a prayer of thanksgiving, perfect for this time of year. The piece was inspired by Ted Kooser’s poem “So this is Nebraska.” Curiale dedicated his piece to Kooser upon its completion in 1995.

What else reminds you of autumn? Perhaps Halloween? Join me next time for my “Horrifying Music of Halloween” playlist in honor of the upcoming spooky holiday!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What season is it?

We’re looking at music for summertime here on Clef Notes this week. What are some of your favorites?

Today, let’s listen to Delius’ Summer Night on the River, the second of his Two Pieces for Small Orchestra (the first is his On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring discussed earlier this month). As you listen, try to picture the view of the Loing River from Delius’ garden in Grez.

What about Hugo Alfven’s most remembered work, the MidsummerVigil? This piece found inspiration in a Scandinavian summer solstice festival and uses Swedish folk tunes, depicting peasants dancing.

With that, we come to our current season—autumn. Join me next time for a few fall favorites! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Remembering Summertime with Gershwin and Kodaly

We’re celebrating the summer solstice here on Clef Notes this week for those folks who aren’t quite ready for the chilling temps outside! What summery pieces warm you up inside?

One of my favorites is George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from his 1935 folk opera Porgy and Bess. This opera is based on a novel by DuBose Heyward, and is set on Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina. While Ira Gershwin often gets full credit as the lyricist for “Summertime,” George collaborated with Heyward himself on much of this project.

Many performers have done arrangements of “Summertime” over the years. Here’s one by a mandolin ensemble. Do you have a favorite arrangement? 

Zoltan Kodaly’s Summer Evening was written for chamber orchestra in 1906. While the title insinuates a program, Kodaly made it known that any programmatic tie does not go beyond the connection to the composer writing the work on summer evenings. Inspired by his meeting with early ethnomusicologist Bela Bartok, this piece uses Hungarian folk idioms. It was later revised for a performance with Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic in 1930. 

We’ll talk more about music for summer next time! 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Reflections on Springtime

It may be autumn outside but on Clef Notes this week, it’s springtime!

Jean Sibelius’ Spring Song, originally titled Impromptu for Orchestra, premiered in 1894 and left the composer disappointed. His father-in-law attended the concert, which contained performances by Sibelius and his brother-in-law. When the later received higher praise for his work, Sibelius decided to revise his piece, reworking it and giving it the title we know today. The piece is well-loved today, and often heard in springtime concerts across Finland.

Frederick Delius’ On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring is the epitome of seasonal music. It comes from his two pieces for small orchestra along with Summer Night on the River. In it, he uses the theme from Grieg’s Norwegian Folk Tune, Op. 66, No. 14. Can you hear the cuckoo calls played by the clarinet?

What are some of your favorite pieces for springtime?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Is it spring yet? Music by Schumann and Rodrigo

For those of us in colder climates, we begin longing for spring’s arrival not long after the first of the year! Robert Schumann was no different, nicknaming his First Symphony Spring when he wrote it in January of 1841. Clara Wieck instigated the composition, writing Schumann and persuading him to uses his talents to explore symphonic music. The piece took just four days to sketch, and originally contained spring-related titles for each movement. Those were later discarded for publication, but there is no doubt that the butterflies and birds of springtime were on the composer’s mind when he wrote the Symphony No. 1.

What about Joaquin Rodrigo’s reflections of springtime in his Berceuse de printemps? This lullaby for spring of 1928 is perhaps different than the Rodrigo you are used to hearing. Known for his Concierto de Aranjuez and other works for guitar, this piece is actually originally written for solo piano! The piece exudes the happiness of the season for which it was written, and is written to resemble a music box.

Next time, we look at a few more pieces for the vernal equinox! 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Wintertime with Lauridsen and Tchaikovsky

This month we are looking at seasonal music on Clef Notes and this week brings us to the dark, cold months of wintertime. But perhaps winter could be a little less bleak if accompanied by the sounds of seasonally appropriate music such as Morten Lauridsen’s Mid-Winter Songs.

Morten Lauridsen is known for his choral music works that move the soul. Distinguished Professor of Composition at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, Lauridsen was commissioned to write a piece for the school’s centenary in 1980. Mid-Winter Songs was the result, originally composed for choir and piano. He later wrote a version for orchestra and chorus.

Students in Lauridsen’s classes enjoy beginning each class with poetry read out loud by their professor. Poetry inspires Lauridsen’s work and it was the work of poet Robert Graves that provided the perfect winter imagery for the composer’s Mid-Winter Songs.

Peter Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #1 “Winter Dreams” is another wintery example that comes to mind, although the piece is not exactly programmatic for the season. It’s possible that when the composer gave it this nickname, he was symbolically referring to his current season of life. The First Symphony took Tchaikovsky quite a while to complete, causing him much stress, insomnia, and even a nervous breakdown! He feared criticism from his former teachers and felt that composing a symphony was quite an undertaking (and I would have to agree!)

Do you have a favorite piece to accompany your hot cocoa on snowy, winter days? Let me know by commenting below! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Seasonal Music

It’s October and if you live in Cincinnati like I do, you know that this means the days are growing shorter, the air is getting cooler, and the trees are getting brighter! Autumn has always been my favorite season. Perhaps it’s the pumpkins or the falling leaves, or maybe Thanksgiving. As I reflect on what this season means to me, I can’t help but think of the many classical composers who wrote lovely music based on the changing of the seasons.

Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is probably the most iconic “seasons” piece. Having over 500 concertos to his name, Vivaldi wrote many of his works for the young ladies at the school where he taught throughout his life. Some pieces, however, were written for his own performance purposes or for a patron. It is likely that The Four Seasons was composed for these last two reasons. They are accompanied by sonnets, likely written by the composer himself.

So you probably knew Vivaldi’s musical depiction of the seasons, but what about Glazunov’s? He wrote a magnificently orchestrated ballet in 4 scenes, one for each season.

In 1875, Tchaikovsky was asked to write his own set of character pieces for the St. Petersburg music magazine. He composed twelve short works for piano, one for each month of the year. Since their conception, there have been many different transcriptions of the various months.

Perhaps you prefer choral music? Then you likely favor Haydn’s reflections on the seasons in his oratorio, The Seasons. The libretto was adapted by Baron Gottfried van Swieten from a poem by James Thomson. The piece quickly became quite popular and was even printed in multiple translations!

What is your favorite “seasons” piece?

This month, Clef Notes will look at a few favorites for each season, ending the month just in time for Halloween and a spooky-music playlist! 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What's your favorite Nino Rota film score?

You may have heard the music of Academy Award-winning composer Nino Rota (1911–1979) if you’ve tuned into 90.9 WGUC…or if you’re a fan of The Godfather (1972)! Rota was a famous early-film composer, who was known for his work on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Franco Zeffireli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968), and many directed by Federico Fellini.

Born into a musical family, Rota was considered a child prodigy known for his composing and conducting. He attended the Curtis Institute in the early 1930s and then returned to his native Italy where he taught. While he wrote opera, ballet, and orchestral works, his film music is probably the most well-known.

Below, you can enjoy a few Rota-hits. What is your favorite of his film scores?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Look at James Horner

If you enjoy movies such as Braveheart (1995), Titanic (1997), or Avatar (2009), then you likely are familiar with and enjoy the music of composer James Horner (1953–2015).

Beginning his music studies on piano as a child, Horner quickly jumped into the film industry following college, working on scores for B movies. It wasn’t long before he received a major opportunity, working with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. From there, he began to make a true name for himself, working with major directors and film projects. Sadly, Horner died in a plane crash in 2015.

Horner is perhaps best known for “My Heart Will Go On,” made famous by Celine Dion and the film Titanic staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Though remembered as a film composer, Horner dabbled in orchestral works. One example was released in May 2015, just prior to his passing. This piece was commissioned by Mari and Hakon Samuelsen, a famed brother and sister duo. Horner titled the work Pas de Deux, as it is meant to depict the players “dancing” together. Enjoy this lovely work below.

Join me next time as we look at another famous film composer, Nino Rota. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Leitmotifs in Film

You may be familiar with the term “leitmotif” in reference to a Wagner opera, but did you know that this term has been used to reference musical themes in film? This month, Clef Notes is looking at the use of music in cinema. Today, let’s look at a few examples of how leitmotifs can be used in film.

A leitmotif is a recurring musical theme that can be connected to a particular character, object, place, idea, etc. Many film composers play on this idea in their work and as a listener, it’s often fun to watch a movie, picking out these significant musical ideas. One famous example is the shark theme in the 1975 film Jaws. Film composer John Williams used this two-note motive to represent the shark’s presence, whether actually seen on camera or not. This theme’s association with the shark brilliantly adds suspense for the viewer, who knows the dangerous beast could emerge from the waters at any moment. This theme has become so famous that many people who haven’t seen the film still know its association!

Another leitmotif shows up in The Wizard of Oz (1939). This theme connects Ms. Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West musically, implying for the viewer that they are, indeed the same villain, simply taking on different personas in Dorothy’s two worlds (Kansas and Oz).

Finally, a favorite leitmotif of mine shows up in the 1983 holiday classic, A Christmas Story. Prokofiev’s “wolf” theme from Peter and the Wolf appropriately depicts the neighborhood bully Scut Farcus each time he approaches Ralphie and his friends.

Have you heard any leitmotifs in your favorite films? If so, please share what or who they represent! I’ll give you a hint: if you’ve seen Star Wars, you’ve heard leitmotifs in film, as this series is famously known for this musical trait!