Time is a Mirror, from Einstein’s Dreams (Day 87)

Einstein was fascinated with the nature of time, and Lightman’s novella presents a number of different fantasies about what time might be like in Einstein’s teeming imagination. Today’s selection from Einstein’s Dreams is music for an episode in which he speculates that time might be like a mirror.

Quiet are the city streets,
Free from chaos, free from care.
Music from a violin
Gently fills the evening air.

A simple folk-tune is stated by the chorus at the beginning of this section, followed by a passage for two violins. I adore the effect created by the two violins beginning the tune together but slowly going out of sync; effects like this were remarkable effective for “theatricalizing” the notion of relativity using the materials of music and movement. In addition to Sasha, who played on yesterday’s selection, the versatile instrumentalist, singer and actress Phoebe Silva plays on this track, while Ed Renninger rants charmingly on as the young Albert.

If you missed them, these are the songs already posted on Project 194; the links on the right are songs chosen at random from previous posts. Want to contribute to my interactive composition, “Hear My Song?” Read more here. Want to receive daily songs delivered direct to your inbox? Sign up here!

Song of the Orphan, from Einstein’s Dreams (Day 86)

Albert Innaurato found a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke called “Song of the Orphan” that conjured up strong feelings for us about little Liesrl, the abandoned love child of Einstein and Mileva. I mingled the text of the original German poem with Albert’s English translation, and Meg Hubbarth (now Meg Steiner, living and working and raising a daughter in Austin).

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A Letter to Habicht, from Einsteins Dreams (Day 85)

Day 85 of Project 194 brings as unusual a composition as you’ll ever encounter. Biographer Walter Isaacson calls Einstein’s letter to his friend Conrad Habicht “one of the most famous personal letters in the history of science,” describing the four papers that Einstein would publish during his so-called “annus mirabilis,” the miracle year in 1905 when the 26-year-old Einstein formulated ideas that would eventually transform the world of physics while working as a patent clerk in Bern.


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Three Songs from Einsteins Dreams (Day 84)

einstein_140Alan Lightman’s short novella Einstein’s Dreams has inspired a variety of adaptations in theater, music, dance and film, and the author has been very generous in allowing a variety of derivative works to flourish while not granting an “exclusive” license to any one artist. Marjorie Samoff at the Prince Music Theater became interested in this project after being introduced to a musical theater adaptation of the work that had been written by a young New York-based creative team, but decided that she would commission a new piece using Albert Innaurato as dramatist. There were several unsuccessful attempts to find a suitable composer for Albert’s libretto, and I suggested to him that we undertake a workshop in the University of the Arts’ Summer Pre-College Program, with me as composer and Whit MacLaughlin as director. This 2006 workshop yielded a handful of song sketches and a bit of creative momentum that led to a 2007 workshop. These are the three songs from 2006:

I post these as a follow-up to my Harold posts because two of the three tunes made their way into my 2009 score for The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon after we abandoned Einsteins Dreams in 2007. The first, “Valse Liesrl,” is a lyric that I imagined Einstein’s wife Mileva singing; Liesrl is the name of the illegitimate daughter born to Mileva and Albert who was put up for adoption.

Liesrl, little liebchen,
Mamma missed you so!
Flesh of my flesh,
Soul of my soul,
How could I ever let you go?
Ach, these Swiss!
So solemn, so sour.
You were my bliss for only an hour.
You came with the dawn,
And then you were gone.
It is besser this way, I know,
But Liesrl, I miss you so.

The singer is Abigail Grenda, who was a student in the UArts Pre-College program at the time but went on to enroll and earn a BFA in Musical Theater with us. This tune became the Pastorale theme heard in the garden at the beginning of Harold’s adventure with the Princess.

The second song, Use Your Noodle, Dolly, is also for Mileva (“Dolly” was Albert’s nickname for her). This song is meant to depict the distress Mileva must have felt upon learning that she was pregnant with her boyfriend Albert’s child. The singer here is Carleigh Smith.

Mileva, think!
Use your noodle, Dolly!
That’s what Papa used to say.
For this type of folly,
There’s a bitter price to pay.
We can’t afford such drama,
With me an unwed mama.
The righteous Swiss will surely make a stink
And Albert’s whole career
Will be kaput, I fear.
Gott im Himmel! Use your noodle! Think!

Fiddle Me, Johnny, the third of these three song sketches, is a polka that uses Einstein’s violin playing as a naughty metaphor for “fiddling around.” Danielle Westhead gives it an energetic performance; she went on to study MT at Hartt and goes by Dani Jayne Westhead now, at least on the Facebook. You’ll recognize this tune as the Circus Polka in Harold, and I then composed a ragtime variation on it for the two Dancing Ponies.

Fiddle me, fiddle me, Johnny,
Fiddle me a tune!
Rosin up your bow, boy!
Now is none too soon.
My heart’s ein bischen tipsy.
You stir in me the gypsy.
Your violin has magic in the light of the moon!

Oh my! That Johnny boy!
So crazy with desire!
While dreaming of his Dolly,
His pillow catches fire!
Oh my! Come fiddle me a tune!

These three songs, as you can see, are presented in a reverse chronology, moving backwards in time from the abandoned bastard child to the unwanted pregnancy to the lusty coupling that begat her. The three songs are then presented simultaneously as another experiment in the manipulation of chronological time; having gone backwards in time, we now have multiple present tenses existing simultaneously. Sehr interessant, ja? I enjoyed working on this project, and Whit and I were equally aroused by the conceptual challenge of representing Einsteinian relativity using the materials of contemporary music theater. It also gave me a chance to flaunt my few words of German, which I’ll do more of in future posts about Einstein’s Dreams.

The Boy My Father Thinks He Knows, from Gemini the Musical (Day 83)

This melody, as I mentioned a few days ago, was incorporated into Harold as part of the rocket ship ride music, but began its life in New York City as a song for Francis in Gemini the Musical. Dan Micciche sings it on the track below; after you’ve had a chance to listen, you can go back and hear it in Harold and be eligible for a Ph.D. in Musicology (or Chazzy-ology), especially after reading the analytical commentary that follows the lyric.


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