Albert Einstein: The Violinist




Einstein's mother, Pauline, was an accomplished pianist and wanted her son to love music too, so she started him on violin lessons when he was six years old. Unfortunately, at first, Einstein hated playing the violin. He would much rather build houses of cards, which he was really good at (he once built one 14 stories high!), or do just about anything else. When Einstein was 13-years old, he suddenly changed his mind about the violin when he heard the music of Mozart. With a new passion for playing, Einstein continued to play the violin until the last few years of his life. For nearly seven decades, Einstein would not only use the violin to relax when he became stuck in his thinking process, he would play socially at local recitals or join in impromptu groups such as Christmas carolers who stopped at his home.

Music for fun and physics

Einstein with Bronislaw Huberman
Music was not only a relaxation to Einstein, it also helped him in his work. His second wife, Elsa, gives a rare glimpse of their home life in Berlin. “As a little girl, I fell in love with Albert because he played Mozart so beautifully on the violin,” she once wrote. “He also plays the piano. Music helps him when he is thinking about his theories. He goes to his study, comes back, strikes a few chords on the piano, jots something down, returns to his study.”

In later life, his fame as a physicist often led to invitations to perform at benefit concerts, which he generally accepted eagerly. At one such event, a critic – unaware of Einstein’s real claim to fame as a physicist – wrote, “Einstein plays excellently. However,his world-wide fame is undeserved. There are many violinists who are just as good”.

One wag, on leaving another concert in which Einstein had played, commented, “I suppose now [the Austrian violinist] Fritz Kreisler is going to start giving physics lectures”.

There are nevertheless conflicting accounts of his musical abilities. Probably the least generous come from great artists, of whom Einstein counted many as personal friends as well as chamber-music partners. These included the pianist Artur Rubinstein, the cellist Gregor Piatigorski, and Bronislaw Huberman, one of the most remarkable and idiosyncratic violin virtuosos of the 20th century.

In 1936 Huberman visited Einstein in Princeton to discuss his plans to found the orchestra that eventually became the Israel Philharmonic, of which Einstein was a prominent supporter. Probably the summary of Einstein the violinist that comes nearest to the mark comes from his friend Janos Plesch, who wrote, “There are many musicians with much better technique, but none, I believe, who ever played with more sincerity or deeper feeling”.




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