"Suppose time is a circle, bending back on itself. The world repeats itself, precisely, endlessly."
Thus begins Einstein's Dreams, the highly acclaimed 1993 novel by author and MIT Professor Alan Lightman. The best-selling work imagines a series of dreams that Albert Einstein might have had around the time he developed his theory of relativity.
These words also open a musical composition inspired by the novel, Songs from "Einstein's Dreams," written by local composer Paul Hoffman. The piece will receive its MIT premiere at a noontime concert on Tuesday, May 15 in Killian Hall by the Silverwood Trio, featuring soprano/flutist Cindy Woolley, a technical assistant in the Department of Biology.
Mr. Hoffman, the trio's pianist, composed Songs from "Einstein's Dreams" last year for the Duxbury (MA) Art Complex when the ensemble was asked to perform a work celebrating the millennium. Both Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Woolley were fans of Professor Lightman's book and thought that it fit in perfectly with the occasion of the millennium, which Mr. Hoffman calls a "celebration of time."
They also thought the book lent itself to musical adaptation because of its poetic style. "The book is almost operatic in form," said Mr. Hoffman, who selected passages from six of the book's 30 dreams for his composition. "The text itself is ripe with poetic imagery," he added.
Professor Lightman says he was "delighted" when he first heard the finished piece performed in October 2000 at the Brookline Library. "The music is beautiful and captures a quality of sadness in the book," said Dr. Lightman, who will attend the May 15 concert.
This is not the first time that Einstein's Dreams has been an inspiration for performing artists, Professor Lightman said. He has received requests for rights to the novel from artists around the world and was able to grant these rights to nearly everyone who asked. There have been "about 10 theatrical productions" of Einstein's Dreams, he said, all of them with a strong dance component (which, he added, is "not something I would have imagined").
The Silverwood Trio also features cellist Walter Halvorsen. The group will include Songs from "Einstein's Dreams" on its first CD, which members plan to record at MIT and release in the fall.
For more information, call x3-2826.
Excerpt from Einstein's Dreams
Suppose time is a circle, bending back on itself. The world repeats itself, precisely, endlessly.
For the most part, people do not know they will live their lives over. Merchants do not know that they will make the same bargain again and again. Politicians are unaware that they will shout from the same lectern an infinite number of times. Parents treasure the first laugh from their child as if they'll never hear it again. Lovers making love the first time undress shyly, show surprise at the supple thigh. How would they know that each secret glimpse, each touch, will be repeated again and again and again?
In the world in which time is a circle, every handshake, every kiss, every birth, every word, repeats precisely.
Einstein's Dreams published by Pantheon Books, NY. Used by permission of the author, c/o Gelfman Schneider Literary Agents, Inc. All rights reserved.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 9, 2001.