Daydreams in music | Albert Einstein, 1879-1955

Albert Einstein playing violin


"If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. 
I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music." 

Albert Einstein

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Albert Einstein developed an appreciation of music at an early age. His mother played the piano reasonably well and wanted her son to learn the violin, not only to instill in him a love of music but also to help him assimilate into German culture. According to conductor Leon Botstein, Einstein is said to have begun playing when he was 5, although he did not enjoy it at that age.

When he turned 13 he discovered the violin sonatas of Mozart, whereupon "Einstein fell in love" with Mozart's music and studied music more willingly. He taught himself to play without "ever practicing systematically", he said, deciding that "love is a better teacher than a sense of duty."
At age 17, he was heard by a school examiner in Aarau as he played Beethoven's violin sonatas, the examiner stating afterward that his playing was "remarkable and revealing of 'great insight'." What struck the examiner, writes Botstein, was that Einstein "displayed a deep love of the music, a quality that was and remains in short supply. Music possessed an unusual meaning for this student."

Music took on a pivotal and permanent role in Einstein's life from that period on. Although the idea of becoming a professional himself was not on his mind at any time, among those with whom Einstein played chamber music were a few professionals, and he performed for private audiences and friends. Chamber music had also become a regular part of his social life while living in Bern, Zürich, and Berlin, where he played with Max Planck and his son, among others. He is sometimes erroneously credited as the editor of the 1937 edition of the Köchel catalogue of Mozart's work; that edition was actually prepared by Alfred Einstein.

In 1931, while engaged in research at the California Institute of Technology, he visited the Zoellner family conservatory in Los Angeles, where he played some of Beethoven and Mozart's works with members of the Zoellner Quartet. Near the end of his life, when the young Juilliard Quartet visited him in Princeton, he played his violin with them, and the quartet was "impressed by Einstein's level of coordination and intonation."



Music was not only a relaxation to Einstein, it also helped him in his work. His second wife, Elsa, gives a rare glimpse of their home life in Berlin.

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


He also plays the piano. 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.”


Albert Einstein, 1941                          A. Einstein with musician and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, 1930


When Rabindranath Tagore and Albert Einstein met for the first time, in Germany in 1930, both had won the Nobel Prize, Tagore for literature in 1913, Einstein for physics in 1921. At the time of that meeting, Dimitri Marianoff, a relative of Einstein, described Tagore as ''the poet with the head of a thinker'' and Einstein as ''the thinker with the head of a poet.'' The conversation, he added, was ''as though two planets were engaged in a chat.''




Albert Einstein / Plays Violin - Mozart Sonata in B-flat KV378 

Albert Einstein playing piano

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