‘Genius’ Illuminates Einstein’s Musical Mind

Take a bow: Geoffrey Rush channels Albert Einstein's musical side in the National Geographic Channel original series Genius. (Photo: Dušan Martinček / National Geographic)

Take a bow: Geoffrey Rush channels Albert Einstein’s musical side in the National Geographic Channel original series Genius. (Photo: Dušan Martinček / National Geographic)

Albert Einstein’s passion for music is today a little-known side of the brilliant theoretical physicist, but thanks to the new series Genius, starring Geoffrey Rush, the importance of music in the life of this seminal 20th century figure is getting new emphasis.

Promos for the scripted anthology series, which premiered April 25 on the National Geographic Channel, featured Rush playing the violin. As befits a show about the man who reconciled theories of time and space, the action jumps between young Einstein at university in Zurich, and in more advanced years in Berlin and Princeton, NJ. Johnny Flynn, who plays the young Einstein, also bends the bowstrings.

Einstein played piano and violin since he was a child. As an adult, he often spoke of using the violin to help work through big ideas, and by the onset of fame — in 1905 at the age of 26 — his musicianship was well known. While living in Berlin he would gig with friends, including renowned Austrian musicians violinist Fritz Kreisler and pianist Artur Schnabel. He also played with fellow theoretical physicist Max Planck (who sang played piano, organ and cello and even composed operas when he wasn’t busy inventing quantum theory).

Albert Einstein playing the violin.

Albert Einstein enjoyed playing violin sonatas by Mozart, his favorite composer.

“Life without playing music is inconceivable for me,” Einstein once said. “I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.” He particularly loved Mozart, whose compositions he said revealed to him the harmonies of the universe.

The series’ musical stylings are a nice touch, adding a human element to a man whose unconventional thinking made him somewhat remote. The series also benefits from thoughtful scoring by Lorne Balfe. Balfe trained at Remote Control, working with Hans Zimmer on films like Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes (both 2011). More recently Balfe scored Ghost in the Shell (2017) and The Lego Batman Movie on his own.

To tout the series’ debut, Nat Geo is touting new musical compositions generated by the app Focus@Will that are intended to illustrate how Einstein used music to focus. “Einstein was an experiential scientist, so he had visions,” Focus@Will founder Will Henshall told CNET.”How did Einstein get these visions? By playing the violin, which helped him to get into a flow state.”

“As a little girl, I fell in love with Albert because he played Mozart so beautifully on the violin,” said Einstein’s second wife, Elsa, who was also his first cousin. “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.”

Einstein’s mother was a pianist, and taught her son to play. No word yet on whether Einstein will be tinkling the ivories in Genius. But since the National Geographic Channel announced a season two renewal, we’ll be seeing a lot more genius at work.

Genius is produced by Imagine Television and Fox 21 Television Studios. “Season one of Genius tells the fascinating backstory of the influential physicist Albert Einstein, and we are excited to delve into the life of another brilliant icon in season two, continuing our successful partnership with National Geographic ” said executive producer Ron Howard. “But we also love a little mystery, so the world will have to wait until our season one finale on June 20 to see our big unveil of the season two genius.”

Scientific music lovers everywhere are pulling for Planck.

Albert Einstein and Max Planck at the piano

Albert Einstein and Max Planck at the piano. (Photo collage by MaxTheTrax)

 

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