Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Albert Einstein may have made their mark in different fields and lived centuries apart, but they had more in common than just their native language. In celebration of the 50th Mostly Mozart Festival, Albert Einstein’s Facebook page will host a Facebook Live conversation about the two great thinkers with Michael Beckerman, Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Music at New York University, on Monday, August 15, at 10:00 am from David Geffen Hall.
Until then, here are six surprising connections between Mozart and Einstein.
1. Mozart’s music inspired Einstein in both his professional and creative lives. Of the great composer, Einstein once said, “Mozart’s music was so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master.” Einstein held similar beliefs about physics, which revealed a “pre-established harmony” in the cosmos. The theories were simply waiting to be discovered and articulated.
2. They both played the violin. Mozart was famously skilled at several instruments—the viola and keyboard instruments, as well as the violin—from early childhood. Einstein began studying the violin at age five but wasn’t a willing pupil at first. (He once threw a chair at his teacher, who fled the Einstein house in tears.) He changed his tune at age thirteen, after discovering Mozart’s violin sonatas.
3. They both managed to work through poverty. Mozart struggled with fluctuating income due to erratic commissions and his extravagant spending throughout his career. His wife, Constanze, also required extended stays at costly spas because of medical issues. When Einstein discovered relativity in 1905, he was living in cramped quarters and facing money troubles.
4. Einstein and Mozart’s works have been praised for their beauty and elegance. Many scientists have hailed Einstein’s theory of general relativity as sublimely composed, and English physicist Paul Dirac once noted that scientists experience aesthetic pleasure through it because of its “great mathematical beauty.” Mozart composed in almost every major genre at the time—including symphony, opera, the solo concerto, and chamber music—and elevated them to a new level of technical sophistication. His works are similarly celebrated for their clarity, balance, and transparency.
5. Their contributions marked turning points in their respective fields. Although Mozart’s oeuvre is regarded as the high point of the Classical era, his later works helped pave the way for Romanticism in music. Einstein’s theories of relativity closed the age of classical physics and opened the door to the ambiguities of atomic physics.
6. Their antics often shocked their contemporaries. A bohemian in his youth, Einstein set himself apart from other scientists with his indifference to dress and unconventionally long hair. Mozart showed a penchant for risqué humor in his letters and recreational compositions. He also caused a scandal when he resigned as court musician for the ruler of Salzburg, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo, to pursue a career in Vienna. Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon regarded Mozart’s disobedience as “revolutionary.”
Ryan Wenzel is Assistant Director, Social at Lincoln Center.