Einstein’s Concert

Yehudi Menuhin started at the violin at a young age. Regarded as one of the twentieth century’s greatest violin performers, he was already playing with the San Francisco Symphony at the age of seven. His performances were dense and tonally rich, and transported his listeners to another realm. He filled halls prestigious such as the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as well as unadorned rooms in World War II concentration camps. He was awarded honorary doctorates by 20 universities and became an honorary Knight of the Order of the British Empire and an Ambassador of Goodwill by UNESCO.

violin orchestra concert

Yet maybe Menuhin’s most memorable performance was an undated one, early in his career, when Albert Einstein was present. After the concert, Einstein sought him in the backstage, paid some compliments, and said,

Thank you, Mr. Menuhin; you have once again proved to me that there is a God in heaven.[1]

Einstein certainly uses a strong word here – to prove is to establish beyond doubt – but I imagine we may have all shared his sentiment before. A concert has been performed with excellence; the song flowing through the room communicated harmony and meaning; we felt a gut connection to all around us as the music coordinated everyone’s moves to the same beat; our minds experienced a widening of the senses, stretching itself anew to take in the full breadth of reality; our hearts let go of guarded emotions and we dared lift up our souls in zestful bliss of joy; there was a vibe and a theme and a pulse and indeed a spirit in the air; the music charged the atmosphere with grandeur. There was, if we can muster a word, a spirit, a reality, some vague thing we could not pinpoint; yet too truthful, too concrete to be dismissed.

What is it? Music has the power to articulate a mysterious, beautiful reality. Yet musical notes would not have such effect upon us if there wasn’t some underlying architecture making them meaningful. If you think about it, their harmony would not move us to such existential extremes if there was nothing to be harmonious to. Beauty would not and could not poke its face in the surfaces of life if it did not belong to the fabric from which the universe was made.

Or, if we put it positively, musical notes articulate in audible song the harmony intrinsic in reality. They sound forth the inaudible rhythm that pervades the universe. As an invisible yet palpable witness, music organizes harmoniously the sounds and noises uttered all around us, by birds, waves and supernovas. A concert is thus not merely a concert; it is like a living if ephemeral manifestation to our ears of the beauty charged into all of life.

People packed Menuhin’s concert halls throughout his career. They sat down and heard the violin open the curtain to a marvellous, beautiful universe. Some of them listened to good music, stood up, and went home. Others stopped to think about it, as Einstein did, and named this grandeur, this wordless melody behind reality, as God.

René Breuel

[1] Richard Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics: God in Imagination, Beauty, and Art (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 104.


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