Downtown Express photo by Joshua Bright
Music for special relativity
By Harry Newman
Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart two of historys undisputed geniuses never had the chance to meet in person. They were born 123 years apart and would probably have been too busy anyway. But for an hour and a half this Monday evening, April 30, the two will share a stage when Einsteins Mozart: Two Geniuses, a unique concert work for verse and chamber music by Kate Light, has its New York premiere at the new Seaport District Cultural Association Performance Space on Beekman Street.
Equal parts poetry reading and chamber recital, Einsteins Mozart was inspired by the100th anniversary of Einsteins Miracle Year 1905, when he published five breakthrough papers on theoretical physics including the first formulation of e=mc2 and the 250th anniversary of Mozarts birth in 2006. The piece combines a suite of original poems by Light about the two mens lives and achievements with live performance of two of Mozarts most well-known string quartets, The Hunt and The Dissonant.
The link between the two historical figures goes deeper than a coincidence in anniversaries. Einstein was an amateur violinist who loved to play chamber music with his friends, Light noted in an interview a few days before the performance. He often said music helped him when he was stuck on a tough problem. It was being introduced to Mozart when he was 13 that kindled Einsteins passion for playing music and he would turn to the composers work for inspiration throughout his life.
Einsteins Mozart is in two parts with the first devoted to Einstein. Poems with titles such as An Age of Invention, Ether, Or...? and Time and Tempo recount his early life from childhood to his mid-20s when his most famous work was completed and provide a concise, witty, accurate, (and rhyming!) explanation of his ideas along the way. A stanza from A Remarkable Year: 1905 gives something of the flavor:
Though Newtons mechanics till now have been fine;
there are several old laws that I must redefine.
You see, time is subjective,
and space needs perspective;
not even a measure of length stays in line...
The second part focuses mostly on Mozart and his travels as a child prodigy performing through Europe. In both sections, rather than being performed together, the reading of the poems alternates with playing of the individual movements of the string quartets. In this way, the music and words become an ongoing counterpoint to each other and build during the course of the piece into a subtle, sustained exploration of the spiritual and intellectual connections between Mozart and Einstein and their work.
I wasnt sure how it was going to tie together, she said. Then I read [what Einstein wrote] late in life about men of the past and their achievements being his friends that could not be lost...And Mozart was this great friend of Einsteins. I loved the idea that people and achievements were his friends. It just opened up so many possibilities.
Light is the author of three books of poetry, The Laws of Falling Bodies (1997), Open Slowly (2003) and, last years Gravitys Dream, and an earlier concert work, Oceanophony, written for the 100th Anniversary of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She is also a violinist with the New York City Opera.
Known for her spirited reading style, Light has presented her poetry and concert work across the country and will be the reader for Mondays performance. The music will be performed by the Albert Quartet, a group created for the occasion, quite aptly, by her musician friends and colleagues in the city.