Einstein and the Violin

Einstein's mother, Pauline, was an accomplished pianist and wanted her son to love music too, so she started him on violin lessons when he was six years old. Unfortunately, at first, Einstein hated playing the violin. He would much rather build houses of cards, which he was really good at (he once built one 14 stories high!), or do just about anything else. When Einstein was 13-years old, he suddenly changed his mind about the violin when he heard the music of Mozart. With a new passion for playing, Einstein continued to play the violin until the last few years of his life. For nearly seven decades, Einstein would not only use the violin to relax when he became stuck in his thinking process, he would play socially at local recitals or join in impromptu groups such as Christmas carolers who stopped at his home.

Music for fun and physics 

Music was not only a relaxation to Einstein, it also helped him in his work. His second wife, Elsa, gives a rare glimpse of their home life in Berlin. “As a little girl, I fell in love with Albert because he played Mozart so beautifully on the violin,” she once wrote. “He also plays the piano. Music helps him when he is thinking about his theories. He goes to his study, comes back, strikes a few chords on the piano, jots something down, returns to his study.”

In later life, his fame as a physicist often led to invitations to perform at benefit concerts, which he generally
Bronislaw Huberman and Einstein
accepted eagerly. At one such event, a critic – unaware of Einstein’s real claim to fame as a physicist – wrote, “Einstein plays excellently. However,his world-wide fame is undeserved. There are many violinists who are just as good”.

One wag, on leaving another concert in which Einstein had played, commented, “I suppose now [the Austrian violinist] Fritz Kreisler is going to start giving physics lectures”.

There are nevertheless conflicting accounts of his musical abilities. Probably the least generous come from great artists, of whom Einstein counted many as personal friends as well as chamber-music partners. These included the pianist Artur Rubinstein, the cellist Gregor Piatigorski, and Bronislaw Huberman, one of the most remarkable and idiosyncratic violin virtuosos of the 20th century.

In 1936 Huberman visited Einstein in Princeton to discuss his plans to found the orchestra that eventually became the Israel Philharmonic, of which Einstein was a prominent supporter. Probably the summary of Einstein the violinist that comes nearest to the mark comes from his friend Janos Plesch, who wrote, “There are many musicians with much better technique, but none, I believe, who ever played with more sincerity or deeper feeling”.


Mysteries Galore Reviews The Devil's Violin

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

The Devil’s Violin begins with an act from the past that sets in motion an unexpected chain of events tying all the players involved in the story together. Niccolo Paganini, a world famous violinist termed by many as the Devil because of his extraordinary skills, is on his deathbed in Italy. Niccolo has promised his cherished violin to the mayor of Genoa so that it can be put on display in the museum. However, he wants the 1742 Guarneri to remain in the family, so he hides it along with secret documents that are inside the case under the floorboards in his apartment and leaves an exquisitely crafted forgery of the instrument for the museum. He plans to tell his son where the real violin is hidden, but dies without revealing his secret.

The story then moves forward to the present day in Los Angeles. Max Pendleton, a Hollywood film producer, hires two top-notch thieves to steal the violin from the museum. Plans for keeping the heist under wraps go slightly awry when a violinist in Italy is found with his throat cut, and the man fleeing the scene is described as a man dressed all in black. This act triggers a manhunt led by Special FBI Agent Chris Clarke for the man in black, since the MO at the murder scene is consistent with a contract killer who has eluded the FBI for years.

Art Johnson has artfully integrated believable and relatable characters into a story filled with violin history, secret societies, deception, intrigue, greed, and non-stop action that keeps the reader invested in the outcome of the story. The tension builds throughout the novel culminating in a nail-biting confrontation in Italy between the players who have a vested interest in locating the violin. There are surprising twists and turns in the plot that makes for an engrossing mystery thriller. The few minor grammatical mistakes do not detract in any way from the overall enjoyment of the story.

The author has left it open for this book to be the beginning of a highly entertaining and captivating series. There are unanswered questions involving a couple of the key players who assisted the FBI, and Special FBI Agent Chris Clarke has a new case to solve.

Reposted from Mysteries Galore

Part Two: Can you tell a fake instrument from the genuine article?

New technology has makes it easier for experts to communicate with each other and share their knowledge.

Digital photography and database software have also made it much easier for dealers to record what they have seen and keep comprehensive archives.
  Florian Leonhard, a London-based restorer and dealer of fine violins says ‘Any expert always needs photographic references.' We can store a lot in our brain, but we can’t always go through 10,000 instruments in our mind. A computer database helps us, and having digital images means I can type in features and find things more quickly.’In the past few years, there have been important advances in a number of scientific techniques that can help shed light on the physical properties of instruments. Perhaps the most prominent of these has been dendrochronology, the process of determining the age of wood by analyzing the patterns of tree rings. But according to Christopher Reuning, a dealer and restorer based in Boston, it is not always conclusive. ‘It can tell you a number of things,’ he says. ‘If the tree was cut down after the instrument was allegedly made, then the instrument can’t have been made by that maker. But dendrochronology can’t prove; it can only disprove – the tree can be much older than the instrument, because the maker might have used older wood. Dendrochronology is often used to confirm what you already think and to ensure that you’re not making a mistake.’

Arguments over the usefulness and authority of dendrochronology reached a head in the late 1990s with the claims and counterclaims over the date of the ‘Messiah’ Stradivari. American expert Stewart Pollens asserted that the ‘Messiah’ could not be a Stradivari, based on findings by two German dendrochronologists that suggested that the outermost tree ring of the violin was formed in 1738, a year after Stradivari’s death. But a dendrochronological analysis by British maker John Topham contradicted those findings, dating the outermost tree ring to 1682. Many prominent dealers always had their doubts about Pollens’s claims, and in 2001 a group of US scientists presented new research that backed up Topham’s dating of the outermost ring.

Another emerging technology is varnish analysis. Research by scientists in Paris has shown
Varnish Sample from an instrument by Antonio Stradivari
that Stradivari used a very simple recipe of oil and resin to coat the wood of his instruments, so if any other chemicals are detected as major constituents, it is likely that the instrument is a copy. However, varnish analysis is a very new technology and cannot yet be entirely relied upon. ‘I increasingly use dendrochronology, and for some cases wood analysis,’ says Hieronymus Köstler, a dealer and maker in Stuttgart, Germany. ‘Varnish analysis will also be quite helpful in future, but the techniques are not refined enough today.’

So has all this left the fakers quaking in their boots? Not exactly, according to Michael Sheibley, a luthier in Pennsylvania. Sheibley says that makers are still producing copies good enough to fool most dealers – and he reckons he is one of them. ‘It goes on all the time,’ he says. ‘In the past, experts didn’t have the kind of equipment that is available today. But there are different levels of experts, and some of them are easier to fool than others.’

‘I’ve done things that have alarmed experts,’ he adds. ‘One day I went to an expert with a case of violins I had made. He was not able to identify them, and it took me ten minutes to convince him that I’d made them. He and his colleague stood there wondering how this could happen. Let’s call it a gag – these experts are not the experts people think they are. I have, in the past, enjoyed putting egg on their faces for my own self-gratification.’

Sheibley says that although technology can determine certain things, the best experts have seen so many instruments over so many years that they can simply rely on their own experience and instinct. ‘You have to smell it,’ he says. ‘You have to have it ingrained in your being.’

Other experts agree that there is no substitute for experience. ‘Recognition of a maker’s work is the most important thing,’ says Reuning. ‘An expert should sell on his or her own conviction. You should make a decision based on what you really believe. Someone who is a real expert will form an opinion based on their personal knowledge.’

Köstler agrees. ‘The most valuable safeguard is an understanding of originality and knowledge of the historical background and construction of instruments,’ he says. ‘Scientific tools can be time-consuming and difficult to use. Technical analysis or dendrochronology are of course very important, but you need to know a lot to use these tools.’
According to Florian Leonhard, a London-based restorer and dealer of fine violins, says technology can only do so much. ‘Nothing replaces the experience of having seen originals,’ he says. ‘You have that in your mind, and then you compare. You try to place the instrument in a school, looking at things like the colour of the varnish, the f-holes and the age. You have to know all the makers very well to know whether an instrument is fake, because many things could match and it is hard to prove. In a good fake, I will often see many features of the maker. There are a multitude of things that add together and they all have to be right – the inserts, the scroll, the channelling, the inside work. You are like a doctor trying to diagnose a patient with a rare tropical disease – there are so many boxes that have to be ticked to get the right diagnosis. The brain is still the best resource.’

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Interview - Art Johnson - Jazz Guitarist, Violinist, Composer and Author of The Devils Violin

Photo prise par Olivier Perez

Art Johnson is an American born Jazz Guitarist, Violinist and composer who has recently written the novel The Devils Violin. Art thanks so much for granting us this interview. The Devils Violin holds a 4.7 star review on Amazon and is reviewed as one of the most enticing mystery thriller novels to date.

Art based on your very musical background you have toured with Lena Horne, recorded with Barbara Streisand, and accompanied Pavarotti. 

You have been on MTV - participated in Academy Award and Grammy Award music, acted as a California State University professor and lecturer to name but some. Which of these have you enjoyed the most?

Touring with Lena Horne is a standout for sure. It was three years and we became good friends, which is not typical in an employer/employee situation. But in truth, all of these experiences are connected like a chain of events and each setting has had great worth to me as a human being as well as a musician.

What made you decide to write The Devils Violin?

Actually, the book wrote me! I was vacationing in a village near Parma and just before going to sleep the names of the main characters came to me with a brief description and I wrote them down before turning out the lights. When I awoke in the morning I sat at the breakfast table with ten Italian relatives and began to write the first few chapters. They of course wanted to know why I wasn’t eating.

Was it easy to cross the bridge from musician to author?

Easy …? I started writing poetry in the 1980’s so I had spent time with word-play. To me, the creative element no matter what the medium is rooted in the same source: the imagination. If it is well trained the crossing over is not too difficult.

Can you tell us a bit more about the plot, without giving away any secrets?

The violin world is extremely complex. The instrument is difficult to play, and if you want to really have a great sound it is probably one of the most expensive instruments for a person to purchase. There are violin brokers, dealers and auction houses that are tempted to alter the lineage of an instrument to make it appear more valuable.
The devils violin is about deception and greed as a cast of characters from Hollywood film producer who is obsessed with rare antiques in particular violins, FBI agents, two professional thieves, a master violin forger, and an elderly couple of great mystery who are after the violin case because it is believed that an alchemical treatise or formula that Niccolo Paganini use to expand his powers over the instrument is stuffed inside.
The FBI is after an assassin who is suspected to have killed a violinist in Cremona Italy who is on their most wanted list. All the characters, like spokes on a wheel are spinning around the violin that was used by Paganini to forge his career.

Can you give us more insight into your main character?

That is difficult because the sneak – thief Gus happy and FBI special agent Chris Clarke compete to be the main character throughout the book.

Would you ever consider adopting this novel to film?

I couldn’t think of anything I’d like more.

The novel has been available since February this 2014, to date reviews have been great. Will there be a second novel within the series?

I’m working on it as we speak. Not a true sequel but several of the characters are returning to this semi-sequel.

Does having an existing fan base compliment your novel retail?

That is difficult to say. People are generally reticent to recognize you away from what you are known for. I certainly hope that my fans will be curious enough to read the book but I’m not sure how that will work out.

 Are you looking to further your writing career?

You alternate your performances between the U.S and Europe, have you ever thought about expanding your travels to Australia, South Africa and so on? (If you do decide to come to RSA – Johannesburg, I have just the venue.)

In the last fifty years I’ve done thousands of performances. Now I am recording for ITI records in the States who has signed me to a life-time contract. I’m taking a break from live performance.

Are there specific events, fans can look forward to? Author signings, musical appearances?

As of this moment I am just staying on Monaco where I reside with my wife Patricia and my publisher is working hard to promote my novel. It’s a wait and see period which is a very interesting one for me.

What does the future hold for Art Johnson?

Hopefully, what I would wish for everyone. Good health, happiness and the drive to continue to create and offer something of value to those around me.

What would you say has created the success behind your name?

Honestly, I have no idea. Right place/ right time maybe?

Did you ever think you’d achieve everything you have done so far?

I didn’t start playing until I was seventeen years old: very late for a start in this business. I am grateful for every achievement that has come my way.

Places where fans can connect?

Art thanks so much for giving us some insight into your exciting new world. We wish you well in this new endeavour. 

"Lover Man" by Art Johnson and Dwayne Smith

Art Johnson on violin and Dwayne Smith on piano


Dwayne Smith has been playing keyboards since he can remember and has performed with many L.A. groups including Bernie Pearl, Wilson Pickett, Jeremy Jackson and Chet McCracken of the Doobie Brothers.  His keyboard work is featured on Robert Altman's, "Welcome To L.A." and the film score, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".  He has also performed with Papa John Creach, and a multitude of jazz and blues from coast to coast, including the legendary rock group, The Association.  Aside from his recordings with Art Johnson and others, he recorded his first solo, "Get Directly Down" at the famed nightclub The Baked Potato in Los Angeles. 

Memoirs of a Sideman: Lena Horn

Clifton Davis and Lena Horn in Pal Joey Revival

Nearly three years of touring with the legend Lena Horn had finally come to an end because she was about to launch into a solo Broadway show, “The Lady and Her Music”.  Her Los Angeles based quintet, who had been with her through thick and thin for several years, was being discharged for political reasons.  When you go to New York, you deal with the strongest musician’s union left on the face of the planet; New York local, 802.

The Schubert theater chain, actually the brothers Schubert, wanted Lena for her new vehicle, but only New York musicians were to be employed.

Late one night, on one of our last days of touring, we got the call from her manager at the time, Ralph Harris, a true gentleman of the “old school” to tell us that we were being let go.  Ralph was not very happy about delivering us this news and he had class enough to visit each musician in their hotel rooms to explain the situation man to man. Ralph was particularly uncomfortable with my being let go.  He knew that Lena had come to rely on me for several reasons.  My guitar playing was decent, I could, most importantly make her laugh when she needed it, and thirdly, once she discovered I could sing, we closed the show for many months singing a duet together which she had recorded earlier in her career with Harry Belafonte.  Yea, how about this, I’m singing with LENA and I’m subbing for Harry Belafonte.  

I had mixed feelings about the decision—mostly, I was glad to be headed back to LA for a rest, but I definitely would miss a lady who had become my friend as well as my boss.  She was pure class from sunrise to sunset.  She always used to say,

     “...Honey, you’re not working for me, you’re working with me.”

I had learned a great deal from her, and I think she even learned a few things from me in the process.  She had great respect for her musicians if you were cutting it.  If not, you were out the door in a “New York minute”.

Best begin at the beginning. 

Early in 1978 I was planning my second ill-fated marriage when I got a phone call from “Dad” Miller, ‘the Buddha” as he was sometimes called.

      “Hey Arturie, wha’s up?  Feel like pickin’ a little guitar?”  His smiling voice questioned.

      “What’ya got in mind, my man?”

Maurice then informed me that he had just joined the group to backup Lena Horne for an all-black version of the Broadway play, “Pal Joey” to be performed at the Ahmanson theater in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA for six months. 

This type of opportunity is a real good thing for a “Sideman”.  Weeks of paid rehearsals, and then a show that pays top scale for the talent displayed, and mostly, to be around someone like Lena Horne, a true one-off and a piece of active musical history on the move.  Through Lena I met Billy Eckstein, and Cab Calloway, yea, I talked to these guys, they were nice cats and very humble.

I remember our gig in Philadelphia when Eckstein was playing down the block at another theater that week.  He came to our hotel every night to hang out with Lena and talk with her musicians.  One night I greeted him coming into the hotel lobby and asked him,

     “How’d the show go Mr. “E”?

     “Son, I murdered them!”--he responded with a serious smile.

Nothing like “old-school” well-earned confidence from paying the dues big time. 

We began rehearsals in LA a month before the show was to open.  Of course, true to form, all of the music wasn’t copied yet, (meaning, probably not even orchestrated.)  There is probably no harder music to sightread than “Broadway-show business-big-hoopla” arrangements where you have millions of notes to read correctly and in actuality, few of them really count.  Music for an orchestra pit musician eventually sounds like swirls of notes, none great or small, just a sonic diffusion of frequencies.

     (Think that last sentence will get me into the Harvard school for rocket scientists?)

The weeks passed and we eventually pulled it all together and in typical “Broadway” fashion, we opened the show out-of-town to get the bugs out.  Oddly enough they chose San Diego and the old Spreckles theatre downtown, which a few years later would be totally converted into what is now, Symphony Towers. 

Having an all-black cast was very interesting.  All of the dancers and singers were pros from LA or New York and even the hairdressers, wardrobe personnel and choreographer were black.  It was to become an interesting experience to observe the role play on everyone’s part and of course the truly ridiculous way that people can take themselves so seriously for virtually zilch!  One thing about Lena Horne, they didn’t call her “Lady” for nothing.  Through most of the conflicts that arrive when one hundred or so individuals are trying to do one thing, she remained polite and courteous to all involved, in other words, a real professional.

One such incident of “cast conflict” occurred in Los Angeles when we finally began the official run at the Ahmanson Theater downtown.  I’m a musician, and although I’ve slept with a couple of ballerinas, my knowledge of dance is rather limited.  To me, everything seemed fine with the choreographer, a heavy set extremely energetic, African-American, man who seemed to be doing his job.  But, show business being what it is, one day—bam! He was history. 

The producers of the show were flying in someone from New York to take over.  The dancers were enraged.  They were absolutely not going to dance for anyone else except the man they had been working with thus far.  Back stabbing and mutiny was about to commence with dancers in huddles ready to quit if someone else landed at LAX from New York.  How could the producers do such a thing?...etc.

Well, someone else did arrive and it was none other than Michael Kidd, the original
choreographer from the movie “Pal Joey” with Sinatra and company done in the 1950’s.  Although I was an idiot concerning the hierarchy of the dance world, I knew this man’s name: it had been on the credits of zillions of Hollywood musicals and New York musical theatre productions.  Mr. Kidd was a definite heavyweight.

The hour arrived and a cast and crew rehearsal/meeting was called for the early afternoon.  The dancers were rumored to strike and just bail out of the show.  Tensions were extremely high at the time.  Lena looked worried and extremely stressed.  Mr. Kidd being the ultimate pro could feel the mood of the dancers as he was introduced to the company.  My impression at the time was that no one in this “younger” company of dancers knew who the hell this guy was as he was talking to them in a very sympathetic way about the current situation. 

To my way of thinking, not knowing who Michael Kidd was if you were a dancer would be like not knowing the name Louis Armstrong if you were a jazz musician.

There was definitely a little tension.  Lena had asked all of her musicians to be there while this “meeting” was going on, for support. Although it had no direct influence on our roles, and it seemed a waste of time, I hung in there to watch where it might go.

The spokesman for the dancers explained to the very patient Michael Kidd that they felt lost without their mentor, the one who had,

     “...Shown them the way” through this very involved production.
Mr. Kidd continued to show sympathy towards their dilemma but wanted to get moving along with his job.  Finally, as a “Sideman” my patience was growing thin.  The spokesman for the dancers after a long debate with Mr. Kidd about the dismissal of their former choreographer finally with great emotion began to scream out,

     “...Without him, we don’t have any motivation left amongst us...what is our motivation now?”

Before Michael Kidd could respond, with his mouth half-open, I yelled out instinctively,

“...How about your god-damn paycheck!  That’s certainly enough motivation for me!” 

My uncalled-for response sent a shock wave throughout the ensemble.  Michael Kidd held his hand over his mouth to prevent laughter, and Lena damn near fell over from laughing which she could not control.  The dancers gave me a look that would have frozen a hot enchilada and I just shrugged my shoulders. Michael Kidd had now had enough.  He clapped his hands together loudly and said,

 “...Well, there’s our answer!  Let’s get to work.”

Once again, a fine example of the “Sideman’s” prerogative to speak out even if it meant being fired.  Actually, at the conclusion of this conflict I was congratulated for my totally unwarranted comment, even by some of the dancers.

Halfway through our run of the show, Lena had her sixtieth birthday and we celebrated backstage at the conclusion of a performance one night. 

In the orchestra pit along with myself, were “Mo” Miller on drums, John Miles as the conductor/rehearsal pianist, and Bobby Haynes on electric bass.  I found out on the last night of the production that Lena had requested all of the above musicians to go on the road with her except me.  Ralph Harris, her manager, took me aside and kindly explained to me that she always toured with a guitar player from Las Vegas who also worked with Frank Sinatra named Joe Lano.  I had heard about Joe and knew he was one hell of a guitarist.  I felt no remorse and packed up my gear and headed home.  I would be called to replace Joe Lano in six months but in the meantime other interesting projects awaited my participation.

In Hollywood, this situation is a way of life for any one in the entertainment industry; you’re a hot item one day and cold the next.  What keeps you going, if you’ve got the balls, is an inert capacity to believe in yourself and have the confidence that work will always find you.  I was one of the lucky ones: work always found me.