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.

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