More on Einstein the Violinist

“There are many musicians with much better technique, but none, I believe, who ever played with more sincerity or deeper feeling.” — Janos Plesch

On reflecting on a recent comment to a popular Einstein anecdote, I thought I’d take a little time 😉 to dig a little deeper into the history behind this story.

It has been told to me by a couple of knowledgeable instructors of mine that a) Einstein really did have trouble staying in rhythm and b) his music was much of the inspiration behind his amazing theories. In exploring the first statement, I have found a mention of the anecdote, albeit, perhaps, within a slightly different context, in a review for blank Ronald W. Clark’s book, “Einstein: The Life and Times”. Another point about Einstein’s nature that may have contributed to his alleged rhythmical trouble, is his well-known absent-mindedness. According to a Wikipedia article on the physicist, “He was . . . the stereotypical ‘absent-minded professor’; he was often forgetful of everyday items, such as keys, and would focus so intently on solving physics problems that he would often become oblivious to his surroundings.” I’m sure many of us who play music can relate to instances when we allowed outside thoughts to run alongside our music in our minds, sometimes causing a de-railment in our otherwise flawless performance!

On exploring the musical inspiration behind Einstein’s scientific theories, I came across an outstanding article by Brian Foster, in Physics World magazine.

Albert Einstein’s mother was a pianist, and, at her insistance, he began taking violin lessons at ages six through thirteen. Though he discontinued with formal lessons afterward, his violin was a constant companion throughout his life. He also played piano and learned to improvise. Einstein’s second wife, Elsa, told of instances when Albert was working on a physics problem in his study, and would come out to pluck a few chords on the piano, then retreat back to his study. At one point, Foster reports that Einstein was even offered the chance to own a Guarneri, but he preferred to play a much less distinguished violin, “leaving the great instruments to those whom he felt really needed their power and complexity”.

Some memorable quotes from Einstein:

“I have this to say about Bach‘s works: listen, play, love, revere — and keep your trap shut.”

“I admire Wagner‘s inventiveness, but I see his lack of architectural structure as decadence. Moreover, to me his musical personality is indescribably offensive so that for the most part I can listen to him only with disgust.”

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