“Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.” ~ Yehudi Menuhin
When asked to think of a violinist, probably one of the first names that would come to mind is Yehudi Menuhin. I’m going to sound-off a bit (in a good way), as today marks the centenary of his birth, (22nd April 1916).
Perhaps being British I was exposed to his music more than say, the likes of his contemporaries, Jascha Heifetz or David Oistrakh, but he’s undoubtedly one of the giants of the 20th century and revered by many current soloists. Not just for his supreme talent on the violin, or indeed his teaching and music school, or his conducting, but for also for his humanitarian work and contributions to the world of classical music as a whole.
A child prodigy, he first studied under Louis Persinger and later Romanian violinist and composer, George Enescu.
You could say he was truly a citizen of the world, born in the USA to Russian Jewish parent’s he became a Swiss citizen in 1970 and a British citizen in 1985. He performed all over the world during his illustrious career.
His recording contract with EMI was the longest in the history of the music industry, lasting almost 70 years from his first recording aged thirteen in 1929, to his final recording aged eighty three in 1999. He recorded over 300 works both as a violinist and conductor.
His legacy lives on in the form of his music school in Surrey (where Adelia Myslov, the violinist who recorded the soundtrack for my novel, The Virtuoso, attended). Adelia spoke of performing with him and I could see they were very special memories for her.
So many of his You Tube clips are from those halcyon days of black and white; truly vintage performances that I love. For me, Menuhin was the embodiment of virtuosity, his style was romantic without being sentimental, his musicality and phrasing was exquisite. I’ll share some of my favourite performances of his throughout this post.
“In playing Beethoven the violinist should be a medium. There is little that is personal or that can be reduced to ingratiating sounds, pleasing slides and so on. Everything is dictated by the significance, the weight, structure and direction of the notes and passages themselves.” ~ Yehudi menuhin
Rather than populate this post with tons of text, I’d rather give you his voice and music…
A Violonist in Hollywood – Yehudi Menuhin in coversation with Humprey Burton:
The focus of the film is on previously unreleased footage from the legendary Hollywood music film, Concert Magic from the year 1947. In interviews and conversations with his biographer Humphrey Burton, Yehudi Menuhin recalls the origin of the film, the war and post-war era in America and Germany. Special attention is paid to his commitment to the victims of World War II. These include great artists forced into American exile such as fellow musician Béla Bartók.
During the Second World War Yehudi Menuhin helped to raise the spirits of war victims and refugee children with numerous concerts. He supported artists in American exile, performed for an audience of freed prisoners of the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, and in war ravaged Berlin he played demonstratively under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwängler.
Looking back at the mid-1940’s it is clear to see with what passion Menuhin linked his goals of musical excellence with a dedication to social causes. He used music to plead for justice and reconciliation often against strong resistance.
“Each human being has the eternal duty of transforming what is hard and brutal into a subtle and tender offering, what is crude into refinement, what is ugly into beauty, ignorance into knowledge, confrontation into collaboration, thereby rediscovering the child’s dream of a creative reality incessantly renewed by death, the servant of life, and by life the servant of love.” ~ Yehudi Menuhin
Yehudi Menuhin School
The Menuhin School was set up in 1963 for musically gifted children and is based in beautiful grounds at Stoke d’Abernon near Cobham in Surrey. I attended a classical concert there last year when Adelia was performing with Craig White; many of the school’s alumni are invited to return. It’s the spiritual home of violin tuition, with Lord Menuhin’s grave located in the grounds near the performance hall.
Violinist David Hope was lucky enough to be taught and mentored by Yehudi Menuhin, and talks about his journey with the late maestro and also his latest album, My Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin:
Current violinists fortunate to have been taught by Lord Menuhin include Nigel Kennedy, Nicola Benedetti, Paul Coletti and Peter Tanfield.
The Menuhin Competition
Set up in 1983, this is the world’s foremost violin completion for young musicians under 22. The Menuhin Competition is held every two years in different locations around the world. Past winners include Julia Fischer, Ray Chen, Lara St. John, Tasmin Little and Ilya Gringolts. The 2016 final was won earlier this month by Chinese violinist Ziyu He.
“I would hate to think I am not an amateur. An amateur is one who loves what he is doing. Very often, I’m afraid, the professional hates what he is doing. So, I’d rather be an amateur.” ~ Yehudi Menuhin
As you would expect from a musician of his calibre Yehudi Menuhin played on several famous violins, the most famous of which was the Lord Wilton Guarnerius of 1742. Among his other violins were the Giovanni Bussetto 1680, the Giovanni Grancino 1695, the Guarneri filius Andrea 1703, the Soil Stradivarius, the Prince Khevenhüller 1733 Stradivarius, and the Guarneri del Gesù 1739.
I couldn’t find a clip where I could be sure Menuhin was performing on his Lord Wilton, but I have found one of James Ehnes playing Tchaikovsky’s Melody on it in 2012. He made a series of recordings on famous Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu violins. It seems to possess a very rich, deep and powerful tone.
The Menuhin Century: (Ave Maria, Flight of the Bumblebee):
I think I’m going to have to purchase this!
Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Colin Davis in 1962:
Yehudi Menuhin, aged 22 performing the Mendelssohn violin concerto in E minor, Op. 64 with his teacher, George Enescu conducting:
I absolutely adore his Bach Chaconne solo!
An iconic recording with David Oistrakh of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor:
The second movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No.1in D Major:
A fabulous vintage video of Menuhin in rehearsal and performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, KV 216:
A vintage recording of Menuhin performing Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto with Elgar conducting the LSO:
Menuhin plays the dramatic third movement of the Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61 with the LSO:
Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade Mélancolique with the RPO:
Violin Tutorial – Left Hand First Exercises:
Left Hand Playing:
Keeping it in the family
Performing with his sister Yaltah (on the piano), in a feisty rendition of Sarasate’s Habanera:
Accompanied by his son Jeremy Menuhin playing Beethoven’s ‘Spring sonata’ in F Major:
Menuhin performs Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Trio in 1974 with Rostropovich and Kempff:
Indian Classical Music with Ravi Shankar, Alla Rakha and Yehudi Menuhin:
Yehudi Menuhin & Ravi Shankar – Tenderness:
In his jazz mood with Stephane Grappelli! Autumn Leaves:
Jacob Gade’s tango – Jalousie:
I haven’t really touched on the technical difficulties he faced in the latter part of his career, because despite his virtuosic decline he was always an outstanding musician, conductor and human being.
“Actually, I was gazing in my usual state of being half absent in my own world and half in the present. I have usually been able to ‘retire’ in this way. I was also thinking that my life was tied up with the instrument and would I do it justice?” ~ Yehudi Menuhin