Chamber music and Einstein

This weekend I’m off to play chamber music in Termonfechin, a tiny village on the eastern coast of Ireland. The event is is organised by the Dublin Chamber Music Group, a group of amateur players who organise chamber music weekends twice a year (this particular weekend is the 50th anniversary of the group). They’re great weekends, with up to 20 string quartets and other groups playing away in different rooms in a great country house – with lessons, practice and a concert on the Sunday!

Chamber music in An Grianan, Termonfeckin

I had no plans to be there, but I Got The Call last week…

–  Our violin player is ill, could you lead a piano quartet next weekend ?
– Yes
– It involves an entire weekend’s playing, you may may need to think about it
– No, I’m free

It’s not often I get such opportunities these days. The downside is that I’ve had to practice after work every evening this week, trying to coax my fingers out of retirement (I should be practicising now). Two problems have emerged:
1. I don’t like the chosen piece (piano quartet no. 1 by Charles Stanford )
2. I can’t play it for nuts.
So I have a plan – as soon as we meet up, I’ll get the others to play through one of the Mozart piano quartets. They’re both beautiful and I suspect no-one will be bothered looking any  further…

(Technical note for philstines: a paino quartet is not four pianos, it’ s a quartet consisting of piano, violin, viola and cello)

Of course, it’s impossible to discuss violin-playing physicists without thinking of Einstein. One of the things I admire most about E. is that despite his huge contributions to so many areas of physics, his constant travels, and his many changes of job, he found time to keep up his music throughout his life. In fact, he once remarked that the only tangible benefit of fame was that he became much in demand as a chamber musician. Just how good a violin Einstein was is hard to gauge from the biographies (lines such as ‘a better scientist’ or ‘more musical than technically skilled’ can mean just about anything), but my guess is that he must have been pretty good. You don’t get away with much in a chamber group (it’s not like an orchestra) and it takes a certain level to play the lead violin part in groups with musicians like Rubenstein, charity event or not….

Another clue comes from a rare review of one of Einstein’s concerts  – apparently a music critic stated that ” Herr Einstein played very well enough….but hardly world-class”. Of all the plaudits Einstein received during his lifetime, I suspect this was one of his favourites (only a music critic could fail to recognize the world’s most famous scientist).

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