Today is Arthur Rubinstein's birthday, and if he were still alive he would be a) 124 years old; and b) almost certainly banging ballerinas in their early twenties. Perhaps the most celebrated pianist of the last century, Rubinstein himself admitted that there were other pianists of equal or perhaps superior skill, but as many of them tended to be reclusive nutjobs, he was pretty much the Bono of the classical-music set.
On top of that, he was famous for being incredibly rock-star. Initially, success alluded him, and he tried to kill himself in Berlin when, broke and destitute, he was about to be evicted from his hotel room. The failed suicide, instead depressing him even further, actually made him fall back in love with life, and he spent the rest of his 95 years on Earth living like a dying man.
"It is said of me that when I was young I divided my time impartially among wine, women and song,'" he once remarked. "I deny this categorically. Ninety percent of my interests were women."
Oh, and wasn't it just? He finally married, at age 45, to a 24-year-old ballerina. That's pretty pimp, but the story isn't that cut-and-dry. See, the ballerina and Lithuanian aristocrat Nela Mylnarska, had actually fallen for Rubenstein at the age of 18, but Rubinstein wasn't interested because he was schtupping the fascism out of an Italian princess at the time.
So, Mynlarska went off and married someone else, but dropped him the second Rubinstein decided he was sick of Italian. Even once they were married, Rubinstein continued Jack Kennedy-ing his way through groupies and baronesses, and at age 90, left his wife for a 30-year-old concert promoter.
We don't want to paint a picture of Rubinstein as some kind of chauvinistic douchebag. He wasn't. He was just very, very passionate about every single thing he ever did, be it food, cigars, music, or women. He was the most famous and celebrated performing pianist of his day, and lived the good life like it was meant to be lived.
Among all his musical acquaintances was Albert Einstein. Everyone knows Eistein today as the man whose mad-scientist brain covered with mad-scientist hair gave us atomic energy, the theory of relativity, and basically opened up God's drafting of the laws of physics for the entire world to see.
None of that would've come to pass, maybe, if Einstein the scientist hadn't also been Einstein the violinist.
Don't believe the old wive's tale that Einstein was crap at math in elementary school, so you shouldn't worry when you get a "D" in algebra. He's Einstein, and you're assistant manager at Dairy Queen. It is true, however, that Einstein was not a very good student in his early life, but it was a tendency to over think every single question until he had an answer he was certain of that got him labeled as slow.
Most of his teachers told his parents he was an idiot who would never succeed, which deeply affected Einstein's social development. Instead of following through on a teacher's advice to get Einstein a menial labor job as soon as possible since he'd be a failure at anything else, his parents bought him a violin at the age of six. He became quite passionate about it, and attributed unlocking the full potential of his mind to playing music.
In fact, wandering fiddler was as full an identity for Einstein as scientist. Like Bowie, Einstein spent a lot of time in Berlin sucking up both the scientific community and the musical, rubbing elbows with both Max Planck, the father of quantum theory, and Fritz Kreisler, who's violin studies are still standard repertoire for students today.
He was also friends with Arthur Rubinstein, who, as we may have mentioned, was something of a personality.
One day, Einstein and Rubinstein were playing some violin sonatas together. Probably Mozart. Einstein had a great love of Mozart, and believed that Mozart didn't so much compose as discover the creation that was already there, a perspective echoed in his views on the simplicity of nature and its explanation through simple mathematical expressions. We believe Mozart didn't so much compose as rip off Clementi in a fit of spite, but whatever.
By all accounts, Einstein was a pretty good amateur violinist, passionate, but without the genius or time to be great. Nonetheless, he and Rubinstein enjoyed jamming together. One day, as we said, they were doing a sonata, and Einstein missed his entrance cue.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
After Albert apologized, the duo backed it up a bit and started again, only for Einstein to miss the same cue once more. Rubinstein, in an extremely loud voice designed to carry to the crowd that sometimes gathered outside his home for their sessions, shouted, "For God's sake, professor, can't you even count to four!?"
The fact that there is no recorded comeback leads Rocks Off to believe that this was history's only non-contested Level 10 Sick Burn in both music and science simultaneously.
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.