The Einstein populariser

Among the books which crossed my desk recently, one in particular grabbed my attention with a striking cover illustration: Der Sprung über den Schatten: Betrachtungen auf Grenzgebieten by Alexander Moszkowski, published in 1917 (9004.d.6361).  I noticed that we had ten other books by this author, three of which are versions of a work on Albert  Einstein. This led me to look into who Moszkowski  was and I discovered another interesting and now little known character.

Alexander Moszkowski above, Moritz Moszkowski below, via Wikimedia Commons

Alexander Moszkowski above, Moritz Moszkowski below, via Wikimedia Commons

Alexander Moszkowski (1851-1934) was born into a Jewish family in what is now Poland but spent most of his life in Berlin.  He was the older brother of Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925), less well-known now but a famous composer and pianist at the turn of the 20th century (the University Library has over 60 works by him, three-quarters of which were published during his lifetime).  When Moszkowski moved to Berlin in the 1870s he was taken on as a writer for Berliner Wespen, a satirical magazine.  Then in the mid-1880s he set up his own satirical magazine, Lustige Blätter.  Around the same time he published two key satirical works:

  • Anton Notenquetscher : ein satirisches Gedicht in vier Gesängen (2003.8.115) with illustrations by Philipp Scharwenka (another composer also noted for his graphic illustrations who taught Otto Klemperer). First published in 1875, this was a biography in rhyme form of a fictional piano student which became so popular that it was followed up by several spin-off publications and was reportedly admired by both Brahms and Wagner.

    Title page illustration from Anton Notenquetscher

    Title page illustration from Anton Notenquetscher

  • Schultze und Müller im Ring des Nibelungen : Satiren über Richard Wagner (M706.d.201.2) first published in 1881 to coincide with the first Berlin performance of Der Ring des Nibelungen and reworked in 1911. Schultze and Müller were well-known figures from 1848 onwards, commenting regularly on political events in their Berlin dialect in the satirical magazine Kladderadatsch. Moszkowski was a fan of Wagner’s music even though he was Jewish and aware of the composer’s anti-semitism.

Moszkowski was a prominent figure in Berlin society and a member of the Jewish aid organization Gesellschaft der Freunde (see Die Gesellschaft der Freunde 1792-1935 : Berliner Juden zwischen Aufklärung und Hochfinanz by Sebastian Panwitz to find out more).  He first heard the name Einstein at a lecture given by Poincaré in 1910 and then went on to meet him for the first time in 1916 – Moszkowski was then in his sixties while Einstein was in his late thirties.  For just over one year from the summer of 1919 the pair had a series of conversations on a wide range of subjects – from space and energy to famous men and education (“Mr Moszkowski invites us to ramble with Einstein into realms not confined to pure physics. Many subjects that have a peculiar interest at the present critical stage of the world’s history receive illuminating attention”: note by the translator, Henry Brose, at the beginning of the 1921 English translation).  These dialogues were subsequently published in book form.

Picture of Einstein in 1921, Ferdinand Schmutzer via Wikimedia Commons

Picture of Einstein in 1921, Ferdinand Schmutzer via Wikimedia Commons

The UL has a 1921 German language version, Einstein: Einblicke in seine Gedankenwelt : gemeinverständliche Betrachtungen über die Relativitätstheorie und ein neues Weltsystem (352:3.c.90.9) as well as Brose’s 1921 English translation, Einstein, the searcher: his work explained from dialogues with Einstein (352.c.92.9) and a 1972 English version, Conversations with Einstein with a foreword by C.P. Snow (352:3.c.95.74). Snow states that “Moszkowski’s book has a unique position because it is the first full-scale picture of Einstein, the first introduction to the man when he was just turning forty, had already accomplished his greatest work, and was just about to start on the way to worldwide fame.”  Brose, the translator, was an Australian physicist who had been visiting Germany in 1914 and was detained as a civilian prisoner until the end of the war.  He later interpreted for Einstein on a visit to Nottingham in the 1930s.

In 1922 Moszkowski wrote Die Inseln der Weisheit (we have an English translation, The isles of wisdom) in which he appeared to predict both nuclear power:


Excerpt from p. 149 of The Isles of Wisdom

and mobile phones:


Excerpt from p. 157 of The Isles of Wisdom

Katharine Dicks

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