Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Einstein and fellow string quartet members meet in his Princeton home to practice for a Waldorf-Astoria benefit (December 15, 1933) to raise money for German-Jewish refugees.

Einstein didn’t speak full sentences until he was five years old, but by the time he was six, he had mastered the violin. And while we think of Einstein as a scientist, he had two loves: science and music. So fond was he of his violin that he took it with him when he traveled, and named it/her “Lina.” “He seized any opportunity to immerse himself in music, playing with fellow scientists, people from his neighbourhood or anyone who offered him the chance. He took part in public and private concerts, played the organ at synagogues and on more than one occasion contributed with his music to raising funds for the Zionist cause,” wrote scientist and Einstein specialist Dr. Antonio Moreno González:

His favourite composers were Mozart, Bach, Schubert, Vivaldi, Corelli and Scarlatti. He was not so keen on Beethoven, whom he considered to be too dramatic and personal. He had varying opinions on other composers, but the one he most opposed was Wagner, although he did appreciate his contribution to the new forms of opera.

After work he would relax, sometimes playing in the kitchen so as not to bother the neighbours:

"First I improvise and if that doesn't help, I seek consolation in Mozart; but when I am improvising and I feel I am achieving something, I need the clear constructions of Bach to get to the end."

Albert Einstein as a young boy

Stories of Einstein making and being inspired by music, abound. Mark Swed, classical music critic for the LA Times recounted one such story to mark the centenary of the birth of violinist Yehudi Menuhin:

Among the multitudes of famous anecdotes about violinist Yehudi Menuhin [is] the one about his celebrated Berlin debut in 1929. Backstage after the concert, Albert Einstein told the 13-year-old American prodigy, who had just played concertos by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms with Bruno Walter conducting: “Today, Yehudi, you have once again proved to me there is a god in heaven.”

During another centenary celebration, this time for the 100th anniversary of E=mc2, the NY Times featured a piece by Arthur I. Miller, a professor specializing in the history and philosophy of science, describing in detail Einstein’s intense love of music. Based on Miller’s description, Einstein saw music as something perfect and likely celestial—much the way he regarded science:

Einstein once said that while Beethoven created his music, Mozart's "was so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master." Einstein believed much the same of physics, that beyond observations and theory lay the music of the spheres -- which, he wrote, revealed a "pre-established harmony" exhibiting stunning symmetries. The laws of nature, such as those of relativity theory, were waiting to be plucked out of the cosmos by someone with a sympathetic ear.

Discovering Mozart, according to Miller, changed everything for Einstein:

Einstein was fascinated by Mozart and sensed an affinity between their creative processes, as well as their histories.

As a boy Einstein did poorly in school. Music was an outlet for his emotions. At 5, he began violin lessons but soon found the drills so trying that he threw a chair at his teacher, who ran out of the house in tears. At 13, he discovered Mozart's sonatas.

The result was an almost mystical connection, said Hans Byland, a friend of Einstein's from high school. "When his violin began to sing," Mr. Byland told the biographer Carl Seelig, "the walls of the room seemed to recede -- for the first time, Mozart in all his purity appeared before me, bathed in Hellenic beauty with its pure lines, roguishly playful, mightily sublime."

A teenaged Einstein

In fact it was the music of Mozart, suggests Miller, that helped Einstein push past the difficulties to birth his famous theory of relativity:

In his struggles with extremely complicated mathematics that led to the general theory of relativity of 1915, Einstein often turned for inspiration to the simple beauty of Mozart's music.

"Whenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or into a difficult situation in his work, he would take refuge in music," recalled his older son, Hans Albert. "That would usually resolve all his difficulties."

In the end, Einstein felt that in his own field he had, like Mozart, succeeded in unraveling the complexity of the universe.

A delegation of the Israel Philharmonic honors Albert Einstein in Princeton US 1951

Einstein enjoyed playing with the greats and they apparently returned the sentiment. Anecdotes from famous musicians, proud to have played with the physicist, abound. Miller’s piece ends with one such reminiscence:

At a 1979 concert for the centenary of Einstein's birth, the Juilliard Quartet recalled having played for Einstein at his home in Princeton, N.J. They had taken quartets by Beethoven and Bartok and two Mozart quintets, said the first violinist, Robert Mann, whose remarks were recorded by the scholar Harry Woolf.

After playing the Bartok, Mann turned to Einstein. "It would give us great joy," he said, "to make music with you." Einstein in 1952 no longer had a violin, but the musicians had taken an extra. Einstein chose Mozart's brooding Quintet in G minor.

"Dr. Einstein hardly referred to the notes on the musical score," Mr. Mann recalled, adding, "while his out-of-practice hands were fragile, his coordination, sense of pitch, and concentration were awesome."

He seemed to pluck Mozart's melodies out of the air.

Another historic accounting of Einstein’s musical prowess come by way of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. In its April mailer, the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic marked 68 years since the passing of Albert Einstein, noting his critical involvement in the founding of the orchestra. American Friends citing a 2009 Boston Globe article quoted then 95-year-old Raphael Hillyer, famed violist and former member of the Juilliard String Quartet:

“In the 1950’s, the Juilliard Quartet played a concert in Princeton, and while we were there, we were invited to play for Albert Einstein. After playing Bartók’s 6th quartet which Einstein said sounded like late Beethoven the quartet coaxed him into playing a quintet with us. He played second violin while our second violinist switched to viola.

Somewhere in the slow movement, things went awry, and the performance stopped.

One of the greatest scientific minds of his era confessed that he had gotten lost.

'I never could count,' Einstein said."

Bartók’s string quartet no. 6 as performed by the Juilliard Quartet in 1963:

The famous delay in Einstein’s ability to speak is today a recognized phenomenon known as (what else?) Einstein Syndrome. Children with Einstein Syndrome are late to speak but gifted in other areas, particularly those requiring analytical thought. Much like Einstein himself, kids with this syndrome eventually speak fluently and with no sign of any previous difficulties with speech.

With Einstein, speech was slow to come, and it was only with music that he found his voice. The violin, his “Lina,” was the medium he chose to inspire him to untangle the mysteries of the world. Alas, in 1950, Einstein’s doctor ordered him to stop playing the violin, at which point the scientist turned to an upright Bechstein piano for comfort. Lina, he left to his grandson Bernhard Caesar, the son of his son Hans Albert.

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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