Friday, January 28, 2011

"Albert, your timing is very relative today..."

To Albert Einstein, music was more than merely the greatest source of happiness in life... Find out why in my feature for today's Independent about Jack Liebeck and Professor Brian Foster's music-and-physics night, The Music of the Spheres, which I think contains a few good reasons why schools should teach kids to play musical instruments.

They're presenting it at St John's Smith Square on 4 February and tonight at the Leeds College of Music. And drawing together music, science and the arts is the very heart of Jack's excellent Oxford May Music festival, of which more, I hope, in due course:

Here are some more great amateur violinists from history (and elsewhere)...

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Jefferson, the ‘Philosopher of Democracy’, third president of the USA (1801-09) and principal author of the Declaration of Independence, said that music was “the passion of my soul” and “an enjoyment, the deprivation of which . . . cannot be calculated”. His accomplishment on the violin helped to see off lesser rivals for his future wife’s affection.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)
The French painter, while studying at the Académie Royale de Peinture, Sculpture et Architecture in Toulouse, spent three years playing second violin in the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse. He continued playing as an amateur for the rest of his long life, sparking the expression “Le violon d’Ingres” (meaning “hobby”).

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)
From age 16, Chaplin practised the violin several hours a day. He was left-handed and his violin was set up back-to-front to accommodate this. “I had great ambitions to be a concert artist,” he recalled, “but…I could never achieve excellence, so I gave it up.” He often composed theme songs for his films. Friends included the violinist Isaac Stern and Albert Einstein.

Paul Klee (1879-1940)
The Swiss artist followed an early career as a violinist, playing in the Bernische Musikgesellschaft while at school. His paintings are deeply influenced by music and he introduced to art expressions such as ‘polyphony’ and ‘rhythm’. He knew Schoenberg and Bartók personally, but, like Einstein, believed Bach and Mozart the epitome of musical abstraction.

Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective uses his violin much as Einstein used his: to retreat into a mental space from which he can emerge refreshed and with crystallised perspective on the mystery he is trying to solve. It is a more salubrious pastime than his other retreat: injecting cocaine.