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Classical Notes: May 9, 2006 Archive

First the Roentgens, now the Dopplers

Posted at 4:20 PM on May 9, 2006 by Don Lee (170 Comments)

John Birgeís most recent post reminds me of another seeming musico-scientific kinship: Franz Doppler, composer of the never-to-be-forgotten Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy and dozens of other flute pieces, and Christian Doppler, mathematician and discoverer of the Doppler Effect, the theory explaining why a locomotive whistle changes pitch as a train speeds past.

I have long assumed the two men were related, if only distantly. John's post led me to investigate. To my disappointment, I have not found any evidence supporting my assumption. What I did find is this:

Albert Franz Doppler was the younger of the two, born in Lvov, Poland in 1821. His family moved to Vienna, where he began a very successful career as a flutist when he was 13.

By coincidence, Johann Christian Andreas Doppler lived in Vienna at about the same time. Though he was probably not related to the composer, he should have been. Christian was born in Mozartís hometown, Salzburg, Austria, in 1803. And in 1845 he used music in the original demonstration of the Doppler Effect. He positioned one group of trumpeters at a train station and another on an open train car. As the car rolled past the station, all of the trumpeters played the same tone. But the pitches didnít match. Theory proved.

And you wonder how we occupy our time while those long symphonies are on the air....

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