Albert Einstein the Violinist

May 12, 2004 at 05:00 PM · I'm not sure how many of you know this, but Albert Einstein actively played violin for most of his life.

I heard him once on a documentary about him on television (I think it was him playing) and it sounded really great.

I was wondering if he ever made any recordings, or where it would be possible to listen to his playing? If I did indeed hear his playing on TV, then there must be some recording somewhere!

Replies (42)

May 12, 2004 at 11:06 PM · Don't know about his recordings but I heard a story on NPR recently that he was learning the cello and once played it for Piatagorsky. When he was done he asked the famous cellist, "Well, did I play well?" Piatagorsky responded, "Relatively..."

May 13, 2004 at 02:09 AM · LOL ;D

May 13, 2004 at 09:36 PM · Problem was he couldn't count.

May 14, 2004 at 12:47 PM · I read a biography about Eistein and it said his playing was amateurish. Pretty good, but not quite at the professonal level. In that same biography Eistein was quoted saying that he loved the instrument so much that if he felt he were good enough he would have played professionally.

I am sorry but I don't remember the name of the specific book this was in. I read it quite some time ago...

May 14, 2004 at 10:00 PM · Greetings,

abotu two years ago a lady cellist whose name I forgot was discussed in ther Strad. After establishing a solo carrer She became the pioneer of the viola da gamba and was considered by many to be the worlds leading exponent, including Klempere.

As a child she played chamber music with Einstein and said that his tone was weak and he was uninteresting/inexpresive.

Can"t be good at everything I suppose...



May 14, 2004 at 11:37 PM · jeez you'd think it would be enough to be the foremost mathematics figure of our century, but no

May 15, 2004 at 04:39 AM · In fact, he was only average at mathematics, and he even asked friends (mostly students) to help him with it.

Physics on the other hand :)

May 15, 2004 at 02:31 PM · Yes - next year is the "World year of Physics", in cmmemoration of Einetsin's 3 seminal papers published in 1905. I am trying to organise some violin recitals mostly in the UK, but also Germany and hopefully Israel - using the Einstein violin link - to celebrate this. I heard that he owned a Strad but was a sort of good amateur standard but would greatly like to know more - the definitive biography, at least on his science, by

Pais doesn't mention the violin. The good news on the concert series - I'm not playing in any myself!

May 16, 2004 at 03:11 AM · Buri,

I also remember that article, and if I remember correctly, she said that Einstein played "perfect" but without musicality or something along those lines.

May 16, 2004 at 03:48 AM · I bet it must have been frustrating for Einstein to do spiccato, jete, sautille and anything else that involved a bouncing or off the string bow, since he knew exactly what the bow needed to in relation to gravity but couldn't do it well if he was a mediocre player.

May 16, 2004 at 04:00 AM · Greetings,

Austin, his frustration probably went much deeper than that. Consider that he kept arriving back at the beginning before he had even started...



May 17, 2004 at 01:27 AM · good one, however his deep understanding of curvature and space would most undoubtedly give him an excellent bow arm.

May 17, 2004 at 03:16 AM · Knowledge and execution don't always go together. He might've known so much, but he maybe didn't have the talent or great coordination.

May 17, 2004 at 03:30 AM · Greetings,

as Brian says, it`s all relative,



May 17, 2004 at 01:14 PM · Thanks for all the interesting responses, and great jokes!

Brian, I am in Israel right now! Maybe you could tell me more about those violin recitals.


May 17, 2004 at 03:25 PM · Hi Larry - it's still in the "conceptual" stage - I'm organising one in Hamburg, which will definitely take place, one in the UK, which will probably take place, and one in Israel, which might take place, depending on a lot of other things getting organised. Anyway it won't be until 2005 sometime.


May 17, 2004 at 07:40 PM · Physics, like many disciplines, requires total dedication as well as natural ability. For many years I did little else beyond the hard study required to get though undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees. As with the violin, the ranks of professional physicists are selected from those who emerge top of their classes and gain brilliant doctorates at international-class universities. I'm, sure I could be forgiven for not playing the violin as well as many of the contributors to this web-site and I'm sure that Mr. Einstein can similarly be forgiven.

Having studied relativity theory, I can assure you that it is most difficult! I have also read that physicists, especially theoretical physicists, have the highest average IQs of all professional groups (around 170 as opposed to an average of 160 for experimental physicists, 130 for medical doctors, 125 for accountants etc, based on a study of over 700 physicists internationally conducted several years ago). Whether or not one believes in IQ testing (I do, up to a point), it is my observation that professional physicists really do have very fine intellects. However, the physicist's intellectual strengths may or may not go along with musical ability or interest. Some physicists I know seem to be socially autistic and lacking in interests other than their work. Many are very egotistical and supercilious about their intellects and their Ph.Ds, and hold mythic conceptions of themselves and their research, which makes them a pain in the neck to deal with! Some are very aggressive people, with massive chips on their shoulders (my masters degree supervisor fell into this category).

I suppose that people like Heifetz, Kogan and others had extraordinary natural intellectual abilities and innate drive that they could have turned to other pursuits (including physics?) had they wished, but there is no evidence to go on.

So - what can you say, except that we are all different!

May 17, 2004 at 08:03 PM · wow, its nice to have physicists here, you and brian could start your own thread.

May 17, 2004 at 08:47 PM · Oh wow...Dave. I'm feel sorry for you. I am in a rigorous physics course right now in High school. My teacher is a very brilliant man. We just started Nuclear Physiscs and Relativity. Einstein is one of, if not, the brightest men that this world has ever seen. (Obviously he built onto the Newton-Galillean motion concepts and what not.)

For kicks: Did you know if you are at relativistic speeds in a space shuttle, the clock in your little "time capsule" if you will, seems like it is running just fine. However, down here on earth, a scientist reads his clock and goes..."Wow, I thought that shuttle was bigger, not to mention, they say they've been up there flying for 10 mintues. Why does my clock say they've been up there for 15?" Fact is, Einstein without testing this (We still cant today, relativistic speeds only have to be a tenth of the speed of light [c, the speed of light=3x10^8 m/s--1/10 is about 30,000,000 m/s] or for us english folk, about 18,600 miles per SECOND. He did this without formal observation. We now know this to be a theory, and the closest thing to truth, because of electron tests, but nevermind that. Einstein was a freaking geneous. If he knew how to play the violin on top of that, I would commend him.

May 18, 2004 at 12:09 AM · Greetings,

I personally feel the most important thing Einstein ever did was to walk out of the Geneva Convention and call a press conference. When the reporters were assembled he asked in essence `What he Hell are we doing here?` What is the state of the human race that we think making war more humane, giving it rules, is genuinely moral? When are we actually going to work together for genuine peace?`



May 18, 2004 at 03:48 AM · Matt,

No need to feel sorry for me. I have a lovely life! Thanks anyway and good luck to you!


I agree with your sentiments. I look down in physicists who work for the military, in my view a crime against the ethos of science! I organise and host monthly talks by professional physicists in New Zealand (often bringing these people from overseas), and, on principle, I never invite those working on armaments, munitions or other military applications.

By the way - listen to Mr. Leonid Kogan play the Khachaturian. It's a wondrous thing!

May 18, 2004 at 08:35 AM · My question for Einstein would be, "When are the Hitlers of the world going to stop doing evil?" And what are we supposed to do in the meantime?

May 18, 2004 at 11:37 AM · Greetings,

but Emily, that is precisely the view Einstein was trying to get us the to think about. The Hitlers of this world occur because we are willing to allow those with a vested interest inviolence to operate without compromise while we huff and puff and try to be nice. Einstein was saying that if people lack the courage and vision to work proactively for peace then the short term solutions work in favor of the warmongers by supplying an implicit rubber stamp on what they do.

There is no a priori assumption in his argument that humane actions are not to be used at all times, whatever the cost. But a genuine humanity would simply reject war, armies etc in totality.

The liberal position that you are defending is exactly what Eistein was talking about and its tragic consequences have got us today more or less exactly where Einstein understood we were heading.



May 18, 2004 at 04:49 PM · As far as my own country is concerned, I like the idea of a department of peace (suggested by Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich). It would be a start.

I am afraid that over here (US) the entire political system needs an overhaul, or at least a major scrubbing.

Einistein's walkout made a good point, but perhaps he could have done more good had he participated in the conference. At any rate, it was his choice and not ours to make for him.

May 18, 2004 at 07:41 PM · I am sure that there is hope for the world, but I don't hold my breath.

You can learn a great deal by watching wildlife documentaries and reading about evolution (e.g. read Brian Sykes' works and those of Richard Dawkins). My feeling is that we are a species that has survived over the millenia because of some positive attributes (intelligence and cooperation) but also because of some not so positive attributes. I hate to admit it, but I believe that violence is built into us to the extent that even the best that culture and learning have to offer will not eradicate it completely. Witness the barbarity last century of a nation that had schools, universities, religion, art and music - and that produced Beethoven and Brahms - Germany!

Since working in the public sector, I have frequently been astonished at who climbs to the top within our organisations. Is it usually the most intelligent, the best leaders, those with the most commmon decency and integrity? More often than not the answer is no! It is often the most pushy, the most domineering, self confident and selfish people. This is because we make the mistake of equating ambition and self assurance with leadership, and once the bullies are abroad, most of us are unwilling to do anything about them, usually because of fear (i.e. the professional bully gets away with second rate treatment of staff because other staff don't want his malice trained on them). And that is why we will always have our Hitlers!

May 18, 2004 at 11:23 PM · i think the urge to do violence is inherent in humanity but that doesnt mean one has to give into it. It seems to me that very few people who have good lives and thoughtful education commit acts of violence, most people like Hitler have arisen out of some sort of travesty, in his case some wires were crossed in his brain or something but it was the national outrage that he took advantage of, and that was primarily caused by Germany's international shame following the paris peace talks, and the ensuing economic, political and cultural devestation. My .02 on that.

May 18, 2004 at 11:42 PM · Greetings,

Owen , you might find Bermann`s writing on the roots of widespread violence intersting. I suspect his argument that it goes much deeper than the kind of events you mention is corretc although of course they played a part in it.

One aspect of this thta always troubles me is how the word `Hitler` has actually become such an unchallenged part of the discourse, so often has it been rammed down our throats by the powers that be and the media. The Brits were calloing Nassser `The Hitler of the Nile` prior to our invasion of Egypt, for example.

The comparisons are usually irrelevent and extremely misleading (often dielibertaely so). What the catchall -adjective- Hitler does now is cover up the far more complex relationships between tyrannts and countries that claim moral superiority until their interests move else where and some kind of change is required,



May 19, 2004 at 07:04 PM · Quite true, reminds me a lot of the united states current position (Axis of Evil). The psychology of totalitarian governments is an extremely interesting thing, albeit quite complex, i was merely trying to make the point that although we humans have a long history of committing atrocities on a grand scale, i genuinly believe that we could foster a culture and awareness that could prevent such things from occuring again. We dont seem to be moving in that direction, but that doesn't mean it wont happen some day.

May 19, 2004 at 08:53 PM · I'm a little slow getting back with you, Buri. It may be that we agree on the issues being discussed, only I misunderstand. I will have to get back with you on this.

May 19, 2004 at 10:14 PM · If we want to discuss violence and humanity, why don't we talk about the military torture photographs from Iraq - isn't that more topical than Hitler?

Or perhaps too close to home?

May 19, 2004 at 11:20 PM · The level of disgrace inappropriately dealt to the prisoners doesn't really compare to the mass genocide led by Hitler.

How about the American being beheaded on tape? Yes, this is too close to home for me, as my own father just got back from heading up reconstruction in Baghdad. His efforts there were a better attempt at peace than any sign-carrying protestor, yet many of the projects they worked so hard to finish were destroyed once more by Iraqis. And the saddest thing is that most of the people were glad and thankful for the help, but what can one do about the insurgents? It's a complicated situation. A few people doing rotten things on our side, a few people doing rotten things on their side, and a bunch of people caught up in the middle who really had nothing against each other, but now have to pick sides.

May 19, 2004 at 11:55 PM · yes, quite a quagmire, and one without any clear solution, at least not that i've heard.

May 19, 2004 at 11:52 PM · Greetings,

Emily I am sorry for the stress you are feeling becaus e of your family involvement. It is my fault for starting this line of disucssion without considering where it wa s quite likely to go.

For what it`s worth, I think I have the exact opposite view of Owen. I believe that human beings are fundamentally good, kind and caring but it is -education- and -acculturation- in its current form that begets violence. An education based on power and obedience with the threat or application of punishment ever present.Not to mention that the things we leanr about the world have veyr little to do with the people in them...thus boring and forgettable.

Nor would I condemn soldiers on any side for what they do under stress even as hte actions evoke the depeest disgust and horror. I would suggest that being trained a sa soldier is essentially to dehumanize and the responsibility is much wider and deeper.



May 20, 2004 at 12:38 AM · Yes, as you say Buri, it's hard to criticize soldiers when they have been trained to be desensitized.

Emily - I certainly wasn't trying to imply that Iraq is on a parallel with Hitler. I just think we should all be worried when any country's troops continually break the Geneva convention.

And if it is only genocide you are concerned with, there are many recent examples of that unfortunately - we don't have to go back to WWII.

Anyway - apologies for that - this isn't the place to discuss it.

May 20, 2004 at 01:43 AM · My life has been greatly changed as a result of political strife. I was in Cambodia in July 1997 when a Khmer Rouge (genocide-2 million-1975-80) uprising in Phnom Penh forced my evacuation after a week of hiding behind barricaded doors three blocks from intense fighting. Long story, and I agree with Patrick that this is probably not the place to be discussing such issues.

I personally have been very impressed by the people at this discussion board and their ability to hold intelligent, humorous, friendly conversation without regressing to name-calling and provoking rage. I am inclined to believe that violinists as a whole are an amiable, good-humored lot. So, I shall say nothing further on the subject of war, and spend more time listening and searching my own heart for ways to be more charitable. Thanks for all the good input.

May 20, 2004 at 02:54 AM · good advice although its necessary to have converstations like this occasoinally.

May 20, 2004 at 03:49 AM · Greetings,

Emily, have you ever come across Marshall Rosenberg`s work on Non Violent Communication. I started on it because of attending a training course with Ruth Herzog who is one of his co-thinkers as it were. I don`t know how well the framework actually comes across if you just read his book (s) first but I think he has systemnized aspects of human understanding and communication very efficiently so that we can change all our interactions whatever the situation is being aimed at, family, war, truth and reconciliation comissions etc. The primary concern is to get back in touch with out own feelings and needs since modern culture has pushed us into our heads. I have been surprised how diifcult this is to do but I see little other hope for humanity unless we can learn to address our own and others needs in mutual cooperation.



May 22, 2004 at 04:17 PM · Emily, Einstein once said...

"I do not know what weapons World War II will have, but I do know that World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

Maybe that helps your question.


August 6, 2004 at 02:45 PM · I once saw a film where Albert Einstein got off the ship from Europe during WWII in America and you know what he carried off??? His coat and his violin.

August 7, 2004 at 04:26 AM · Ooh, ooh, I'm an Einstein freak! (I have about 20 pictures of him on my wall.) Aside from the fact that he was a whole lot smarter than me, we have a lot in common. Right down to the hair... :-) Do you know who his favorite composer was? Mozart. I think that is interesting, but maybe it's not. I have a quote somewhere in which he credits music as what inspired one of his theories... I think it was the theory of relativity. Gosh, I wonder where I put that, I know I have it written down somewhere.

'Erie (-:

August 9, 2004 at 07:02 AM · Hi all - earlier on in this thread I mentioned I was organising some concerts to celebrate International Year of Physics/Einstein year in 2005 - well this has taken off somewhat. To answer Larry's specific question,the Israel Concert will be at the Weizmann Institute on Saturday May 21st, 2005. There is also a US tour earlier in May, and a Far East tour in Csptember/October, as well as concerts in UK, Germany and Italy. Lots of others in the pipeline. I seem to have developed into an amateur impressario in my od age - which I must say is great fun. My friend Jack Liebeck is giving the concerts, and you can get a preliminary list of venues etc. from I am writing some articles on Einstein the violinist which should be coming out soon. I will post the web addresses when they come.

August 11, 2004 at 09:55 PM · What if Einstein and Chaplin played together?? Classic!

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