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Albert Einstein: 10 things you might not know about his love for music

Tahiat Mahboob

What are the odds? March 14, universally known as Pi Day, also happens to be theoretical physicist Albert Einstein’s birthday. Born in Ulm, Germany, on March 14, 1879, the scientist is known for many scientific contributions and 2017 marks 138 years since his birth.

Einstein’s genius, however, wasn’t only limited to physics and mathematics. The author of Relativity: The Special and General Theory was also an avid music enthusiast. “Life without playing music is inconceivable for me,” he declared. “I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music ... I get most joy in life out of music.”

With that in mind, here are 10 things we discovered about the musical Einstein.

1. He fell in love with Mozart

Einstein started taking violin lessons at age five, but the drills were so trying that he threw a chair at his teacher. It was Mozart’s violin sonatas that finally had him hooked at age 13. “Mozart's music is so pure and beautiful that I see it as a reflection of the inner beauty of the universe," he said. He also learned how to play the piano from his mother, Pauline Koch, an accomplished pianist in her own right.

2. While Beethoven wasn't his favourite, Einstein was quite good at playing his works

“Too personal, almost naked,” is how Einstein described Beethoven's works. But that didn't stop him from playing them — and he actually seemed to be good at it. When Einstein was in high school in Aarau, Switzerland, his teacher singled him out for praise: “One student, by the name of Einstein, even sparkled by rendering an adagio from a Beethoven sonata with deep understanding.”

3. His violin brought him joy — and the love of his 2nd wife

Einstein named his violin Lina, and it was a joyful presence in his life. “I know that most joy in my life has come to me from my violin,” he said. His second wife, Elsa, said that she fell in love with him “because he played Mozart so beautifully on the violin.”

4. He revered Bach

“Listen, play, love, revere — and keep your trap shut,” Einstein said of Bach, whom he worshipped. According to the book Einstein for the 21st Century: His Legacy in Science, Art, and Modern Culture, Einstein's repertoire included the Bach Concerto for Two Violins.

5. Women, in particular, seemed to be impressed with his playing

Einstein liked playing publicly and these performances captivated audiences, especially women. "He had the kind of male beauty that could cause havoc," gushed one woman.

6. He used music to solve problems

“[W]henever 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, and that would usually resolve all his difficulties," recalled his son Hans.

7. Wagner disgusted him

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

8. He engaged in high-level musical discussions

On July 14, 1930, Einstein met with Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore in Caputh, Germany, to discuss the nature of music, among other things. Here’s an excerpt on how that discussion went:

Einstein: It would be interesting to study the effects of European music on an Indian who had never heard it when he was young.
Tagore: Once I asked an English musician to analyze for me some classical music and explain to me what are the elements that make for the beauty of a piece.
Einstein: The difficulty is that really good music, whether of the East or of the West, cannot be analyzed.
Tagore: Yes, and what deeply affects the hearer is beyond himself.

9. He was veep of Princeton Symphony

Einstein served as the vice president of the Princeton Symphony from 1952 until he died in 1955. The symphony had a memorial concert in his honour, where they played the Christmas Concerto of Corelli and the Sonatina (funeral music) from Actus Tragicus, Cantata No. 106, by Bach.

During this memorial concert, Einstein's friend Robert Casadesus was the soloist in the Coronation Concerto (“Homage to a King”) by Mozart.

10. If not for science, music would have been his career

During a 1929 interview with G.S. Viereck for the Saturday Evening Post, Einstein said that, had he not been a scientist, he would have been a musician.

Follow Tahiat Mahboob on Twitter: @TahiatMahboob

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