Composers Datebook®

Einstein and Glass on stage

Philip Glass (b. 1937) — Cadenza, from Einstein on the Beach (Philip Glass Ensemble; Michael Riesman, cond.) Nonesuch 79323

Composer's Datebook - 20220117


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January 17, 2022


When TIME magazine chose Albert Einstein as their Millennium “Person of the Century” in 1999, their profile catalogued his achievements in physics and philosophy but made no mention of Einstein’s interest in music – or music’s interest in him.  That’s where we come in.

In addition to being a brilliant thinker, Einstein was a talented amateur violinist.  On this day in 1934, he even performed the second violin part of Bach’s Double Concerto at a private recital in New York to raise money for scientists who had suffered at the hands of Hitler.

So, was Einstein any good?  After that concert, the “Musical America” critic wrote, “The press had been asked not to criticize Professor Einstein’s playing. Unofficially, however, they confessed to being impressed. He played, according to their report, as all great artists play, with ‘technique,’ ‘expression’ and a complete absorption in his music.”

And Einstein himself has inspired more than a few musical works. The 1976 opera “Einstein on the Beach” by Philip Glass, for example, features a solo violinist dressed as Einstein who wanders in and out of scenes. Music from Glass’s opera was quoted as an in-joke during a TV commercial showing Einstein trying to choose between Coke and Pepsi.

Music Played in Today's Program

Philip Glass (b. 1937) — Cadenza, from Einstein on the Beach (Philip Glass Ensemble; Michael Riesman, cond.) Nonesuch 79323

On This Day


  • 1706 - American statesman, composer of string quartets, publisher and inventor of the glass harmonica Benjamin Franklin, in Boston (Gregorian date: Jan. 28);

  • 1712 - English composer John Stanley (Gregorian date: Jan. 28);

  • 1734 - Belgian composer François-Joseph Gossec, in Vergnies;

  • 1907 - Dutch composer Henk Badings, in Bandung, Java;

  • 1927 - American composer Donald Erb, in Youngstown, Ohio;

  • 1934 - Canadian-born American composer, conductor and clarinetist Sydney Hodkinson, in Winnipeg, Manitoba;


  • 1738 - French composer and organist Jean François Dandrieu, age c. 56, in Paris;

  • 1750 - Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni, age 78, in Venice;

  • 1826 - Spanish composer Juan Crisostomo Arriaga, age 19, in Paris;

  • 1869 - Russian composer Alexander Dargomizhsky, age 55, in St. Peterburg (Julian date: Jan. 5);

  • 1969 - Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz, age 55, in Warsaw;


  • 1880 - Franck: Piano Quintet in f, in Paris, by the Marsick Quartet, with Camille Saints-Saëns at the piano;

  • 1901 - Mascagni: opera "Le Maschere" (The Masks), simultaneously in 6 cities;

  • 1944 - Copland: Violin Sonata, at Times Hall in New York, by violinist Ruth Posselt with the composer at the piano;

  • 1991 - Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Oboe Concerto, by soloist John Mack, with the Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnanyi conducting;


  • 1745 - Handel publishes a letter in the London ":Daily Advertiser" offering to return three-fourths money to the subscribers to his current series of concerts, then in progress, suggesting that his attempts to please the public have proved ineffectual; The letter prompts a flurry of support, and Handel resumes the concerts a week later; In all, 16 out of the promised 24 concerts would take place; The series closed on April 23, 1745, with a revival performance of ":Messiah." (Gregorian dates: Jan. 28 and May 4, respectively);

  • 1919 - Polish composer and pianist Ignaz Jan Paderewski becomes premiere of Poland.