Monday, June 18, 2018

Albert Einstein and the Charlie Fischer Orchestra

On 15 December 1930 the Red Star Line's SS Belganland left the port of New York bound for Havana, Cuba, the first stop in a four-and-a-half month world cruise. On board was Albert Einstein. Carl Kay, a member of the ship's orchestra, wrote a diary during the cruise. Reading it, I learned Einstein played with the orchestra during their Christmas Eve concert.

Carl described his interactions with Dr. Einstein:

"Thur., Dec 18th -- At sea...This afternoon Professor Einstein on the aft of our deck. So I hurried down to my cabin and got two cameras and then asked if he would pose for a picture. He consented, and I was quite thrilled with taking a snap and a few feet on the cine!"[1]

Photograph of Professor Albert Einstein taken by Carl Kay, fellow
passenger; courtesy of Internet Archive

Wednesday, Dec. 24th -- At sea...We rehearsed with Prof. Einstein this afternoon. At first the hour was set for four o'clock but his secretary came and told us that he was tired -- but would be there at 4:30. Then in about a half hour she came back again and asked to postpone the rehearsal until five. And so, promptly at five -- we were all set up in the Tea Garden -- in came Einstein, dressed as he always is in these warm climates -- tan coat, white trousers and funny old shoes. Never a hat on, no shirt or underwear and no sox!

Mr. Fischer[2] procured a violin for him and after a few minutes we listened to one of the world's greatest scientists doing a good job of playing the violin. The first number was "Berceuse" from Jocelyn and it sounded fine.

About then Mrs. Einstein and the secretary came in. They seemed quite pleased with it all.

Then Einstein wanted to play one of Beethoven's sonatas with the orchestra -- but he didn't know where his music was. Our American edition wouldn't do at all, so he sent his secretary out to find it. But she returned empty handed. Then Fritz went out to look for the pianist from the Belgian Orchestra to see if he knew where it was. And he too returned without it. Einstein, by this time was becoming irritated so he said (in German) that he'd go after it.

While he was gone, Mr. Fischer and Mrs. Einstein had quite a talk. She speaks English moderately well while the Prof. is practically helpless. She says he doesn't care to learn English because he can express himself so much better in German.

And in talking about the Christmas Eve program that we were working on -- she quite seriously told Mr. Fischer -- "But he will wear stockings on his feet tonight -- and a collar and a tie!"

Well Einstein himself returned without the missing sonata so we then played Handel's "Largo." Mrs. E. was very well pleased with this number and begged that it be included in the program. So this made three numbers that [were] sic used in the program -- "Adagio" from Beethoven's 5th sonata, with piano acc. Clem Moreau of the Belgian Orchestra; "Berceuse" by Godard acc. by our orchestra, and "Largo" with the orchestra.

We were all glad that Einstein asked to play with our orchestra, and I think he enjoyed it, too.

The Christmas Eve program commenced in the Reception Room at 9:00 with the orchestra playing "A Christmas Fantasie." Then a Christmas carol by the audience, more musical numbers, songs, etc.; a piano solo by Moreau -- the "2nd Hungarian Rhapsody" that was excellent...

Einstein played his numbers well and everyone applauded heartily. And sure enough he wore sox, shirt and tie and collar -- all dolled up for the occasion. But he had to sit down to play -- and all spradle legged!..."

[1] Cine = short for cinema, or moving picture film.
[2] The orchestra leader was Charles Leonard Fischer (1879-1948).

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