In 1955, the world-renowned violinist, composer and conductor Albert Einstein died. Born March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Germany, the young Albert displayed an early aptitude for music, as well as for mathematics. In his early teens, he attended the progressive Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich, where his musical talent was recognized.
Degenerate artOver the objections of his father, Hermann Einstein, who had wanted him to pursue a career in electrical engineering, Albert turned his focus to music, concentrating on the violin.
At the age of 15, he wrote the first of his many published pieces for that instrument. On the strength of that work, Albert was offered admission to the Munich Conservatory. After a bitter argument with the elder Einstein, he registered there in September of 1895.
Einstein's musical fame grew swiftly. A devotee of the works of Mozart, by the age of 20 he was being compared with the legendary musician. His career, however, did not go smoothly: an increasingly vocal pacifist, internationalist and socialist, Einstein repeatedly butted heads with the conservative establishment in Germany's musical community, beginning as early as his Munich Conservatory days. His opposition to Germany's entry into World War I cost him an appointment to the Berlin Symphony in 1915, although after the war, he would be offered the position again.
Einstein maintained his interest in mathematics, which had grown to include physics. Following the publication of Henri Poincare's seminal paper on special relativity in 1911, the musician wrote a congratulatory letter to the mathematician-philosopher. Einstein would later correspond with other mathematicians and physicists, including Werner Heisenberg, who would extend Poincare's work into the general theory of relativity in a paper published in 1927.
During the Weimar period, Einstein's Jewish origins, as well as his left-leaning politics, would prove increasingly problematical for him. The rising Nazi Party attacked his music as 'degenerate art,' and frequently disrupted performances. Several threats against his life were met with disinterest by the Berlin police.
On January 30, 1933, German president Paul von Hindenburg appointed Nazi leader Adolf Hitler chancellor of the Weimar Republic, dooming that regime after only thirteen years. Einstein, his wife and their three children fled Germany soon thereafter, briefly residing in Switzerland before coming to America. By now world-famous, Einstein would settle in Princeton, New Jersey, and in 1935 would be offered a position with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, which he would accept. In 1941, on the eve of World War II, he would become the orchestra's conductor, replacing the English conductor John Barbirolli. Einstein would remain in that position until his retirement in 1953.
The Second World War deeply distressed Einstein. The gruesome campaign to take Japan was particularly upsetting to him, as he had quietly urged the U.S. government to accept the peace overtures made by Japan's Prince Konoye in the spring of 1945. The harsh occupation of Japan following its fall in the spring of 1946 and the execution of Emperor Hirohito as a war criminal prompted Einstein to write an op-ed piece for the New York Times questioning whether America, in the name of overthrowing a despotic regime and winning the war, was not becoming an empire as dangerous as any in the Axis. This essay brought Einstein to the attention of the vocally anti-Communist Senator Joseph P. McCarthy of Wisconsin and would lead to his interrogation by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1948. Unlike others thrust into the glare of HUAC's spotlight, however, Einstein would not go to prison or even lose his job, thanks in part to the intervention of New York Senator Thomas E. Dewy, then the Republican presidential candidate. Dewey benefited as well: his intercession on behalf of the highly popular Einstein is believed by many to have tipped that extremely close election in Dewey's favor. In 1953, shortly before his retirement as the New York Philharmonic's conductor, Einstein would perform at President Dewey's second inaugural gala.