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Albert Einstein played the violin. It is said...

Violinists: Recordings and Performances: I've seen pictures and I've heard tales but...

From elise stanley
Posted September 1, 2012 at 07:29 PM

I haven't looked extensively - has anyone else come across an Einstein recording?

From Emily Hogstad
Posted on September 1, 2012 at 10:23 PM
No, but violinist Jelly d'Aranyi (the inspiration for Tzigane) played chamber music with him once and reportedly told him: "Your time was relative only once or twice."
From Tom Holzman
Posted on September 1, 2012 at 11:18 PM
I have heard that he was once playing Mozart sonatas with Schnabel, and he got completely lost in the second movement of one of them. Schnabel was reported to have said, "Albert, can't you count?"
From Trevor Jennings
Posted on September 2, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Shinichi Suzuki was under the guardianship of Albert Einstein for while when he came to Europe as a young man. I would guess that Einstein was already a Swiss citizen.
From Scott Slapin
Posted on September 2, 2012 at 12:14 AM
My final viola teacher (Emanuel Vardi) allegedly played quartets with Einstein in Princeton, NJ. The story indeed was that his major problem was counting.
From elise stanley
Posted on September 2, 2012 at 12:39 AM
what a delicious irony..

But there is no recording? I would love to hear what his tone was like etc. I don't suppose anyone knows what violin he played?

From Brian Kelly
Posted on September 2, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Aha...a mystery then ! Where is Albert Einstein's violin now ? Who owns it ?
From elise stanley
Posted on September 2, 2012 at 05:11 AM
Great book title: "Einstein's Violin"

And you could use it for just about anything... :D

From Benedict Gomez
Posted on September 2, 2012 at 05:33 AM
Brian Kelly says:

Where is Albert Einstein's violin now? Who owns it?
------------------------------------------------

I found this on the internet, so it must be true.

"Evelyn's favorite nephew seems to be Bernhard's second son, Paul Einstein, born in 1958. Since Paul was musically inclined, Bern­hard gave him Albert Einstein's violin. Today he is married and living in the south of France, where he is a composer and violinist. In 2004 Paul performed at the German Physical Society's celebration of Einstein's 125th birthday in Ulm, where Albert was born. Paul played Mozart's Sonata in E Minor, Albert's favorite piece."

From Benedict Gomez
Posted on September 2, 2012 at 05:37 AM
In a completely unrelated, but yet similar vein, the whereabouts of Thomas Jefferson's violins are unknown, and they were 18th century Italians. Makes me wonder if one or two survive and the owners are completely unaware of the provenance.
From elise stanley
Posted on September 2, 2012 at 07:37 AM
Benedict: thanks for the info on AE's violin! I wonder how much that would go for at auction...

And are there any clues as to how Jefferson's violins might be recognized (tho' I'm pretty sure my 2010 one is not a candidate :) ).

From Emily Hogstad
Posted on September 2, 2012 at 03:43 PM
LOL! Awesome to hear Einstein apparently had a counting problem. I'd only heard the one d'Aranyi quote but if there are multiples stories about it...lol.

Next time I screw up an entrance I can explain to everybody that even Einstein did it.

From elise stanley
Posted on September 2, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Even better, you are following the Einsteinian relative tempo school...
From Jeff Terflinger
Posted on September 2, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Much like the others simular accounts,
Rachmaninoff said " Albert, you are and man of science,,, and yet cannot count"
From elise stanley
Posted on September 2, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Mathematics is essential to science as a tool, but most great mathematicians have minds that are, I think, indistinguishable from great artists.

Its my experience that they see the answer first and then figure out how to get there. Go figure (hehehe)...


From elise stanley
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 10:13 AM
Sigh, still no recording. I bet his son must have one - I wonder if he would share???
From steven su
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Ain't that a relief! A great mind like his couldn't count. I don't feel so bad anymore. But then once you get to calculus, there isn't so much math anymore...

Elise,
you should call him up and ask him to share it!

From elise stanley
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Steven - great idea. If I use the neutreno phone (which, lets continue to pretend, goes faster than light) and direct the call in a straight line through curved space round the universe, the message will get there about the time he was alive.

I haven't figured how he's going to get the recording back - but I understand he's a smart guy.. even if he can't count...

From Sander Marcus
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Life is full of contraditions:
Einstein couldn't count; Paganini couldn't do theoretical physics. Theoretically, it's all relative.
Actually, it would be possible to hear Einstein play the violin - Just throw a few dilithium crystals in your ipod, traverse the space-time continuum, and put on a good set of headphones.
From elise stanley
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 09:21 PM
You are right, but your details are wrong: Monte Cristo couldn't count; Paganini couldn't scale mountains and there's absolutely nothing relative about Einstein at all - he's truly a quantal figure - not unless you are his niece that is, then I guess its all relative...

OK, so I'm falling into the deep end here...

From Sander Marcus
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 11:29 PM
A black hole of musical speculation, perhaps?
From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on September 4, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Elise, I heard someone say just a few days ago the Robertson's, in Albuquerque, has/had a violin of Einstein's for sale. Can't tell you if that's urban legend or not, but it might be worth checking into if you're interested.
From elise stanley
Posted on September 5, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Yup, they still have it listed - but the link is dead so I guess it was sold.

It was a 'gift to Einstein' so I guess it wasn't his main fling :)

From elise stanley
Posted on March 31, 2013 at 10:54 PM
AHA!!!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MQFmSnG5Ets

Einstein

[thanks to Nate for the link on FB]

{{and even more thanks to Daniel Kurganov for uploading the video on youtube!}}

From elise stanley
Posted on March 31, 2013 at 10:58 PM
Wow, he is really good. So why was it so hard to find a recording?

And how do we verify that this really was him? Is someone pulling my leg? I think we need a historical record on this recording....

From Nate Robinson
Posted on March 31, 2013 at 11:16 PM
If you look at pictures of Einstein playing the violin, he appeared to play with very good posture, positioning, and without a shoulder rest! :)
From Vanessa Gouw
Posted on March 31, 2013 at 11:25 PM
April fool, Elise...!




From elise stanley
Posted on March 31, 2013 at 11:32 PM
Hahaha - well, at least I was suspiscious. Nate fell for it hook line and stinker!

But yes, I was definitely nibbling the bait...

From D Kurganov
Posted on April 1, 2013 at 12:27 AM
dear friends, i came across this recording recently from a relative of toscha seidel, and i can confirm that this is not a "poor silly fad", this is really einstein playing.
From elise stanley
Posted on April 1, 2013 at 01:13 AM
Please excuse us if we are skeptical Daniel - but if its real, you could not have uploaded it on a worse day!

How do we know that this is real? He plays like a grand master and has an awesome sense of rhythm. All the accounts I've read said that he could not stay on time. And why is it that there are no other recordings?

Perhaps you could get some more details on this performance/event or something?

From Roy Sonne
Posted on April 1, 2013 at 03:14 AM
Well, I am skeptical. Einstein was so well known, his passion for the violin was so well known, and so many people wrote about him, that if he really did play that well there would be many comments, letters, articles, etc, about the beauty of his playing. I recently read his biography, and there was not a positive word by anybody about his playing. But there were plenty of negative comments.
From Vanessa Gouw
Posted on April 1, 2013 at 03:40 AM
"The problem with you, Mr. Einstein, that you can't count! It's one....two...three!" -- Jascha Heifetz


From elise stanley
Posted on April 1, 2013 at 10:11 AM
Daniel - how about asking the toscha seidel relative to let you identify him/her and provide a statement. I mean a recording or Einstein is very big musical news indeed - but must be equally verified.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on April 1, 2013 at 03:10 PM
I should have known it right away. I kept saying how could an notorious amateur sound better than any modern professional?
From Eric Rowe
Posted on April 1, 2013 at 10:50 PM
Some quotes I found:

“a student called Einstein shone in a deeply felt performance of an adagio from one of the
Beethoven sonatas”

---musical examiner when Einstein was 17

“As a little girl, I fell in love with Albert because he played Mozart so beautifully on the violin,”

--- second wife Elsa

“Einstein plays excellently.However, his world-wide fame is undeserved. There are many violinists who are just as good”

---music critic

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

---friend Janos Plesch

“accurate but not sensuous”

---Nicholas Harsanyi, retired conductor of the Piedmont Chamber Orchestra

“Most amateurs scrape, play out of tune. Einstein did not; he had a good technique and an opulent tone.”

---Valentine Bargmann, a Princeton University scientist

“relatively good.”

---pianist Artur Balsam

"Einstein was a talented violinist"

---Sir Patrick Moore

Also note the following one:

"There is extant a private recording of Albert Einstein and Toscha Seidel playing the Bach Double Violin Concerto owned by the Seidel family."

From elise stanley
Posted on April 2, 2013 at 01:28 AM
Thanks for those quotes Eric - they certainly describe an accomplished musician. But if he was so able why is there not ONE recording that has been verified as his? I sincerly hope the current one is - but thats not just able to my ear, thats a maestro.... Could that really be Alb?

tis a mystery....

From Andrew Victor
Posted on April 2, 2013 at 02:23 PM
Albert Einstein, I have heard did not remember his own phone number - it is said because he never needed to call himself.

He did not remember phone numbers - because he could look them up.

In fact, I have heard he disdained remembering anything that he could look up.

His problem was probably not "counting," but "keeping time." And why not? After all, even if he couldn't "keep time," don't forget, he was the person who redefined time!

Reminds me that when my own father was in medical school (so I was told) he was invited to play 2nd violin in his mentoring professor's string quartet - his first ensemble experience. The professor's wife had to tap a pencil on the back of Dad's chair to help him keep time. He did get better and returned to taking violin lessons after medical school and also played in string quartets for the rest of his life.

Andy

From N.A. Mohr
Posted on April 2, 2013 at 02:43 PM
Einstein was a scientist who played the violin for fun. He died in 1955. Recording was a relatively 'big thing' then...no easy YouTube available to make everyone and their dog an instant star...

Why would there be a recording?

From elise stanley
Posted on April 3, 2013 at 10:00 AM
... because there were home recording devices for the well-connected and well-to-do. And Einstein was, well, a scientist! I find it almost impossible to think that he would not have wondered how he sounded. And he MUST have had access to the equipment.

I'm sure his family would know but wonder if anyone has asked them....

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on April 3, 2013 at 12:03 PM
Very interesting all this!

I'm very surprised how Einstein's favorite Mozart Sonata (E minor) sounds so similar to Beethoven's Sonata no7 in C minor. I would have sworn it was some Beethoven and not Mozart. Anyway, beautiful work! Einstein had good musical taste :)

From Peter Charles
Posted on April 3, 2013 at 02:41 PM
"I find it almost impossible to think that he would not have wondered how he sounded."

He probably knew how he sounded as he would have heard himself practising ... (wink)!!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on April 3, 2013 at 08:13 PM
One of the most interesting music - related things Einstein did is recounted by Martin Goldsmith in his book "The Inextinguishable Symphony" about his parents' experience in the Jewish Kulturbund orchestra in the 1930s in Nazi Germany. When his parents came to the US in 1941, Einstein sent his father money to buy a flute so he could play here.
From John Rokos
Posted on August 26, 2013 at 11:59 PM
Not all great mathematicians were that good at arithmetic or counting. The disciplines aren't quite the same.

If you look at the quotes under the recording, you will find that it was made by Carl Flesch.

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on August 27, 2013 at 12:27 PM
Einstein once got the great cellist, Pietagorsky to play with him. When they finished, E. asked P. "tell me, how is my playing?" P. responded "well...you play...RELATIVELY well!"
From Thessa Tang
Posted on August 28, 2013 at 10:34 PM
Aha, relative to what - E's counting?
From elise stanley
Posted on August 28, 2013 at 11:16 PM
Yup, I'm counting.

Oh, you meant THAT E.

Still no authenticated recordings of Einstein. I bet he was also out of tune....

From Mark Roberts
Posted on September 26, 2013 at 11:31 PM
I have spent sometime looking around and come up with no example of Einstein playing the violin. I have also contacted several people and organizations that might know, such as: the Albert Einstein archive, John Stachel who wrote a renown biography of him, Roger Highfield and so on, none of them knows any example. Here is a contender link to youtube, to me it sounds like Mischa Elman. There must be someone out there who actually knows if there is a recording, it would be helpful for people in the future if places like the Albert Einstein archive had details of any recording.
From John Rokos
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Who was it said to him "Albert, go back and study at Michelson Morley College. When it comes to counting, you're as thick as two short Plancks"?
From elise stanley
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 12:40 AM
mark - I think we debunked that link a while back. If I recall right the violinist was identified as possibly Toscha Seidel who may have taught Albert.

There appears to be no verified recording - if the family has one they are not releasing it. Perhaps they do not want to dent the myth. I think that's a shame, you really can't do anything to damage his reputation but a little fallible music would sere to humanize the man.

From Mattias Eklund
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 04:18 AM
That sounds nothing like Toscha or Mischa. That sounds like Carl Flesch.
From elise stanley
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 07:29 AM
thanks Mattias - and even if not its almost surely 'anybody but Einstein'! The reason being that if he played that well we would have tons of recordings.
From Mark Roberts
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 11:56 PM
I plan to contact John Stachel and the Einstein arxiv tomorrow to say that I think that there are no publicly available recordings, wonder why they did not know already. The recording certainly does not sound like an amateur: the vibrato, the intonation on the double stops.... Mattias - Linkoping, I used to write papers on a topic where the only person who would read them was a prof from northern ireland who lived most of his life in rhodesia and whose job was in Linkoping. That is why I never understood why musicians always seem to want a larger audience, I used to work away for countless hours on problems where if I was lucky would have an audience of one.
From John Rokos
Posted on September 28, 2013 at 06:25 AM
Daniel was the guy who posted that recording on YouTube. Amongst the comments you find ON THE LINK (not on violinist.com) is:


"carvindc400 1 month ago

I found this on artsjournal com :

The uploader gives it away by the capitalized words in his item description. The words in initial caps which start? the beginnings of the lines spell out:

Happy

April

Fools

The Violinist

Carl Flesch"

____________


Cheers!

From elise stanley
Posted on September 28, 2013 at 12:04 PM
John - hehe - I have forgotten the April 1st connection (we discussed it above I think) but never saw that. Shame on me, I'm usually pretty good at puzzles...

thanks

From Mark Roberts
Posted on September 28, 2013 at 02:02 PM
I got a reply from the princeton collection:Thank you for contacting the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. In reply to your query, unfortunately, we do not have video or audio archival footage of Albert Einstein in our collections at the Firestone Library. Corbis has several video clips of Einstein, but none I believe of Einstein playing the violin:

collection.
From Mark Roberts
Posted on October 2, 2013 at 03:15 PM
got a reply from John Stachel: If you look in Vol. 1 of the Einstein papers, you will find a report about his playing as a student in the Aargau Kantonsschule (Swiss secondary school) that says it was outstanding. So age probably was a major factor in the decline of his craftsmanship in Princeton.
From John Rokos
Posted on October 2, 2013 at 03:21 PM
So thumbs doubly down to the teacher who told him "you will never amount to much" for his contempt of the violin. How DARE he?1?! OUR instrument!
From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 2, 2013 at 03:49 PM
Here is a lovely story about Albert Einstein, in relation to music, called The Night I Met Albert Einstein.

It's written by Jerome Weidman, from a 1955 Reader's Digest, and it describes how the author met Einstein at a house recital. Einstein asked him if he liked Bach, and the author confessed to knowing nothing about Bach. Then Einstein took the author aside; they left the room, and Einstein gave him a schooling in music and beauty that really opened his mind. When they emerged, the hostess was a little annoyed that Einstein had missed the concert, but Einstein told her, "“My young friend here and I, however, were engaged in the greatest activity of which man is capable...Opening up yet another fragment of the frontier of beauty.”

Is this story a bit apocryphal? I don't know, but there it is. It's actually a very heartwarming read!

From Margaret Mehl
Posted on October 7, 2013 at 09:19 AM
I wrote about Einstein's performance of the 'Kreutzer' Sonata in Tokyo a while ago in my blog and I read a bit about Einstein's playing when I wrote my article on Suzuki. I haven't got my references with me right now, but Charlie Chaplin mentions a chamber music evening with Einstein in his autobiography, I believe. Einstein was playing with some professionals in America, but they soon decided they'd get on better without him.

As for Einstein's papers in Princeton, it's the Institute for Advanced Study, not the Firestone library you want. I doubt that they have a recording though, for the reasons given by N.A.Mohr above.

Best wishes,
Margaret


Please visit my new website!

(And I've at last learnt how to insert links in a post!)

From elise stanley
Posted on October 7, 2013 at 10:10 AM
Thanks Margaret - I think you're the first expert we've had on here on this topic! I'll check the blog out...

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