When you look at the life of Albert Einstein many thoughts enter your head: science genius, physics revolutionary, creator of the theory of relativity, humanist, extrovert… but musician? That would perhaps be far down the list of important characteristics attributable to this legendary scientist.
Yet Einstein’s love for music was so central to his own perception of his life story that he had this to say:
‘I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.’
This famous quotation tells us a great deal about the character of Albert Einstein and perhaps goes far deeper than a quick first read reveals.
Science and music
Music, mathematics and science have an incredibly close relationship. We base all of our current ideas of scale and harmony upon mathematics, from the times of the ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Pythagoreans through to present day. Mathematics has been proclaimed to be ‘the basis of sound’ and harmony has, since the time of Plato, been considered an essential branch of Physics.
So, when a scientist such as Einstein states that he sees his life ‘in terms of music’, perhaps we should pay the words a little more attention.
A love grows
At the age of five, Einstein (who was born into a musical family) began playing classical violin. While his initial affection towards the study of the instrument was faint, these feelings flamed into love as he discovered the works of Mozart and Bach. Music became a pure outlet for Einstein’s passions, causing one of his contemporaries to announce:
‘There are many musicians with much better technique, but none, I believe, who ever played with more sincerity or deeper feeling.’
From his early years until the time that he could no longer physically play, Einstein’s violin was his most steady companion in life. Leave aside all of the great scientific discoveries of his lifetime, this is what the great man had to say about music:
‘I know that the most joy in life has come to me from my violin.’
More than love
But joy is one thing, passion is another and love is quite something else. It is the idea of seeing your life in terms of music that I am most interested in here. What exactly did he mean by this phrase? To what extent did music enter every aspect of his life?
Some people use music as a distraction when they work. They take a break from what they are doing and put on a piece of music to relax and escape from the rigours of the daily grind. For others, music is essential for their lives and work – listening to music brings them clarity of mind, thought and being.
Einstein’s wife had this to say:
‘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.’
It seems that, for Einstein, music acted as a catalyst through which he could clarify, define and understand the complexities of his scientific discoveries. Music was not a past-time or distraction but a vital tool in focusing his mind upon the deeper questions he was analyzing in his work. And why shouldn’t this be the case? If Einstein saw his life through music and music is immovably linked to mathematics and physics, then music could quite conceivably have been the guiding force within his genius mind.
The question then remains: would the great discoveries of Einstein ever have existed without his profound, unchangeable love for music?
To leave you today, I am linking to a video of David Oistrakh’s performance of the 1st movement of the Violin Concerto in A minor by Einstein’s favorite composer. J.S. Bach:
P.S. – Make sure you don’t miss out on the latest excellent opera posts on the Falstaff Music Blog http://falstaffmusicblog.wordpress.com/
P.P.S – Since writing this article, I found this wonderful quote from Einstein: “The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception”
P.P.P.S. – Earlier this week the great Violinist Ruggiero Ricci died at age 94. Einstein was a big fan and invited him to play for him in his house, where, apart from enjoying a wonderful afternoon of music, Ricci’s overriding memory was of being served tea with stale biscuits.