Sunday, 18 June 2017


2017 0618 25  Gems From Reader's Digest: The Night I Met Einstein: Gerome Weidman

This Reader's Digest Classic of "My Most Unforgettable Character" offers a lesson in life—and music—from the most brilliant mind in the world. [Reader's Digest, Nov 1955]

Jerome Weidman [1900-1998]
When I was a very young man, I was invited to dine at the home of a distinguished New York philanthropist. After dinner, our hostess led us to an enormous drawing room for an evening of chamber music. I sat down, and when the music started, I fixed my face in an expression of intelligent appreciation, closed my ears from the inside.
After a while, I heard a gentle voice on my right: “You are fond of Bach?” I was sitting next to Albert Einstein. This was a man to whom you did not tell a lie, however small. “I don’t know anything about Bach,” I said awkwardly. “I’ve never heard any of his music.”
Dr Albert Einstein [1879-1955]
“Please,” he said abruptly, “You will come with me?” He led me upstairs. On the floor above, he opened the door into a book-lined study, drew me in, and shut the door.
“Tell me, please,” he said. “Is there any kind of music that you do like?” “Well,” I answered, “I like songs that have words, and the kind of music where I can follow the tune.”
He went to a corner of the room, opened a phonograph, and put a record on, and in a moment, the study was filled with the relaxed, lilting strains of Bing Crosby’s “When the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day.” 

“Now,” he said. “Will you tell me, please, what you have just heard?” The simplest answer seemed to be to sing the lines. I did just that. You see!” he cried with delight when I finished. “You do have an ear!”
Einstein picked up the Bing Crosby record. “This simple, charming little song is like simple addition or subtraction. You have mastered it. Now we go on to something more complicated.”
He found another record and set it going. The golden voice of John McCormack singing “The Trumpeter” filled the room. Einstein stopped the record. He said, “You will sing that back to me, please?” I did—with a good deal of self-consciousness but with, for me, a surprising degree of accuracy.
Einstein stared at me with a look on his face that I had seen only once before in my life: on the face of my father as he listened to me deliver the valedictory address at my high school graduation ceremony. “Excellent!” Einstein remarked when I finished. “Wonderful! Now this!”
“This” turned out to be Caruso in what was to me a completely unrecognizable fragment from Cavalleria Rusticana, a one-act opera. Nevertheless, I managed to reproduce an approximation of the sounds the famous tenor had made. Einstein beamed his approval. Caruso was followed by at least a dozen others. 

We came at last to recordings of music without words, which I was instructed to reproduce by humming. When I reached for a high note, Einstein’s mouth opened, and his head went back as if to help me attain what seemed unattainable. Evidently I came close enough, for he suddenly turned off the phonograph.
“Now, young man,” he said, putting his arm through mine. “We are ready for Bach!” As we returned to our seats in the drawing room, the players were tuning up for a new selection. Einstein smiled and gave me a reassuring pat on the knee. “Just allow yourself to listen,” he whispered. “That is all.”
When the concert was finished, I added my genuine applause to that of the others.

“I’m so sorry, Dr. Einstein, that you missed so much of the performance,”  our hostess said. “I am sorry too,” he said; “My young friend here and I, however, were engaged in the greatest activity of which man is capable.” And Einstein uttered ten words that—for at least one person who is in his endless debt—are his epitaph: “Opening up yet another fragment of the frontier of beauty.”

Jerome Weidman was a novelist, screenwriter, and Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright. “The Night I Met Einstein” first appeared in Reader’s Digest in November 1955 and is one of the most requested pieces from the RD archives. 

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