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Menuhin, Yehudi

Category: Musician or composer

 

Yehudi Menuhin, Baron Menuhin, OM KBE (22 April 1916 – 12 March 1999) was a violinist and conductor who spent most of his performing career in Britain. Menuhin was born in New York City to a family of Belorussian Jews. Through his father Moshe, he was descended from a distinguished rabbinical dynasty.

In late 1919 Moshe and his wife Marutha (née Sher) became American citizens, and changed the family name from Mnuchin to Menuhin. The name Yehudi means "Jew" in Hebrew. In an interview republished in October 2004, he recounted to New Internationalist magazine the story of his name:

Obliged to find an apartment of their own, my parents searched the neighbourhood and chose one within walking distance of the park. Showing them out after they had viewed it, the landlady said: "And you'll be glad to know I don't take Jews." Her mistake made clear to her, the antisemitic landlady was renounced, and another apartment found. But her blunder left its mark. Back on the street my mother made a vow. Her unborn baby would have a label proclaiming his race to the world. He would be called "The Jew".

Menuhin on spirituality and mysticism

Menuhin made no secret of the fact that both his Jewish roots and his long term interest in Eastern culture and music had a profound effect upon his playing and his inspiration. 

In 1952, Menuhin was in India, and Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, introduced him to an influential yogi B. K. S. Iyengar, then largely unknown outside India. Menuhin not only learned yoga from Iyengar, but also arranged for him to teach abroad in London, Switzerland, Paris and elsewhere. B. K. S. Iyengar became one of the first prominent yoga masters teaching in the West.  In 1953, Life magazine also published photos of Yehudi in various yoga positions.  Menuhin also took lessons from Indra Devi, who opened up the first yoga studio in the US, in Los Angeles, in 1948.

From the Introduction to Light on Yoga: The Definitive Guide to Yoga Practice Paperback –by B. K. S. Iyengar (Author)  - Yehudi Menuhin

in 1982

The practise of yoga induces a primary sense of measure and proportion.  Reduced to our own body, our first instructor, we learn to play it, drawing from it maximum resonance and harmony.  With unflagging patience we refine and animate every cell as we return daily to the attack, unlocking and liberating capacities otherwise condemned to frustration and death.

Each unfulfilled area of tissue and nerve, of brain or lung, is a challenge to our will and integrity, or otherwise a source of frustration and death.  Whoever has had the privilege of receiving Mr Iyengar’s attention, or of witnessing the precision, refinement and beauty of his art, is introduced to that vision of perfection and innocence which is man as first created – unarmed, unashamed, son of God, lord of creation – in the garden of Eden.

The tree of knowledge has indeed yielded much fruit of great variety, sweet, poisonous, bitter, wholesome according to our use of it.  But is it not more imperative than ever that we cultivate that tree, that we nourish its roots?  And furthermore how dangerous is that knowledge to those who, ill at ease with themselves, would rather apply it to the manipulation of other people and things than to the improvement of their own persons.

The practise of yoga over the past 15 years has convinced me that most of our fundamental attitudes to life have their physical counterparts in the body.  Thus comparison and criticism must begin with the alignment of our own left and right sides to a degree at which even finer adjustments are feasible; or strength of will will cause us to start by stretching the body from the toes to the top of the head in defiance of gravity.

 

Impetus and ambition might begin with the sense of weight and speed that comes with free swinging limbs, instead of with the control of prolonged balance on foot, feet or hands which gives poise.

Tenacity is gained by stretching in various yoga postures for minutes at a time, whilst calmness comes with quiet, consistent breathing and the expansion of the lungs.

Continuity and a sense of the universal come with the knowledge of the inevitable alternation of tension and relaxation in eternal rhythms of which inhalation and exhalation constitutes one cycle, wave or vibration among the countless myriads which are the universe…………………..

Yoga is a technique ideally suited to prevent physical and mental illness and to protect the body generally, developing an inevitable sense of self reliance and assurance.  By its very nature it is inextricably associated with universal laws; for respect for life, truth and patience are all indispensable factors in the drawing of a quiet breath, in calmness of mind and firmness of will.

In this lie the moral virtues inherent in Yoga.  For these reasons it demands a complete and total effort, involving and forming the whole human being.  No mechanical repetition is involved and no lip service as in the case of good resolutions or formal prayers.  By its very nature it is, each time and every moment a living act.

London 1964

 

Menuhin with Ravi Shankar (left) and Harihar Rao (middle)

Menuhin was also a very long standing collaborator and friend of Ravi Shankar .

Classic FM The musical friendships that have crossed cultures and changed the classical world- 8 September 2017, 11:45 - Yehudi Menuhin & Ravi Shankar

Violin meets sitar and two incredible musical worlds collide. These two important 20th-century musicians met in India in 1952 and were brought together (mostly) by a love of music and yoga. The two played, collaborated and toured together for the rest of their lives, exchanging the techniques, ideas and philosophies of their respective musical traditions.

In 1967, they released an album together, West Meets East, which remains one of the most beloved and acclaimed releases of the 20th century.

Yehudi once said, “In the 43 years of our friendship, Ravi and I have never had an argument. Certainly, there have been many exchanges of ideas, but there is simply no room in either of our lives for an argument.”

Menuhin also worked and was friends with jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli; and in the 1970s, the two created an album of pop music of the 1930s called  Jalousie.

Living his beliefs – a good man in thought and deed

Although many know Yehudi Menuhin for his concerts and records, few realise just how many people he helped by teaching, support and encouragement.  In 1962, he established the Yehudi Menuhin School in Stoke d'Abernon, Surrey and also established the music program at The Nueva School in Hillsborough, California.  In 1983 Menuhin and Robert Masters founded the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists, now one of the world's leading competitions for young violinists.

 

One way in which he helped fellow musicians was to commission work from them.  At the Edinburgh Festival in 1957, for example, Menuhin premiered Priaulx Rainier's violin concerto Due Canti e Finale, which he had commissioned Rainier to write. He also commissioned her last work, Wildlife Celebration, which he performed in aid of Gerald Durrell's Wildlife Conservation Trust.  His interest in the music of Béla Bartók, prompted him to commission a work from him – the Sonata for Solo Violin, which was completed in 1943 and first performed by Menuhin in New York in 1944.

In 1977 Menuhin and Ian Stoutzker founded the charity Live Music Now, the largest outreach music project in the UK. Live Music Now pays and trains professional musicians to work in the community, bringing the experience to those who rarely get an opportunity to hear or see live music performance.

Following his role as a member of the awards jury at the 1955 Queen Elisabeth Music Competition, Menuhin secured a Rockefeller Foundation grant for the ‘financially strapped’ Grand Prize winner at the event, Argentine violinist Alberto Lysy. Menuhin made Lysy his only personal student, and the two toured extensively throughout the concert halls of Europe. The young protégé later established the International Menuhin Music Academy in Gstaad, in his honour.

Menuhin performed for Allied soldiers during World War II and, accompanied on the piano by English composer Benjamin Britten, played for the surviving inmates of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after its liberation in April 1945.

But Menuhin understood the value of forgiveness and reconciliation and he returned to Germany in 1947 to play concerto concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic under Wilhelm Furtwängler as an act of reconciliation, the first Jewish musician to do so in the wake of the Holocaust, saying to Jewish critics that he wanted to rehabilitate Germany's music and spirit.

Life

Yehudi Menuhin with his 1733 Prince Khevenhüller Stradivarius.
Menuhin received the violin in early 1929

Menuhin's first violin instruction was at age four. 

He displayed exceptional talent at an early age and his first public appearance, when he was seven years old, was as solo violinist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1923.  

When the Menuhins moved to Paris, Yehudi was taught by the Romanian composer and violinist George Enescu, under whose tutelage he made recordings with several piano accompanists, including his sister Hephzibah.

in 1937

From a very early age, Menuhin used a number of famous violins, arguably the most famous of which is the Lord Wilton Guarnerius 1742. Others include the Giovanni Bussetto 1680, the Giovanni Grancino 1695, the Guarneri filius Andrea 1703, the Soil Stradivarius, the Prince Khevenhüller 1733 Stradivari, and the Guarneri del Gesù 1739.  According to Henry A. Murray, Menuhin wrote:

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, personal communication, 31 October 1993]

Menuhin was married twice. He married Nola Nicholas, daughter of an Australian industrialist. They had two children, Krov and Zamira. Following their 1947 divorce he married the British ballerina and actress Diana Gould. Menuhin and Gould had two sons, Gerard and Jeremy, a pianist. A third child died shortly after birth.

 Menuhin and author Paulo Coelho in 1999 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

Death

Menuhin died in Martin Luther Hospital, Berlin, Germany, from complications of bronchitis.  Soon after his death, the Royal Academy of Music acquired the Yehudi Menuhin Archive, which includes sheet music marked up for performance, correspondence, news articles and photographs relating to Menuhin, autograph musical manuscripts, and several portraits of Paganini.

 

 

References

Menuhin’s recording contract with EMI lasted almost 70 years and is the longest in the history of the music industry. He made his first recording at age 13 in November 1929, and his last in 1999, when he was nearly 83 years old.

He recorded over 300 works for EMI, both as a violinist and as a conductor. In 2009 EMI released a 51-CD retrospective of Menuhin's recording career, titled Yehudi Menuhin: The Great EMI Recordings.

In 2016, the Menuhin centenary year, Warner Classics (formerly EMI Classics) issued a milestone collection of 80 CDs entitled The Menuhin Century, curated by his long-time friend and protégé Bruno Monsaingeon, who selected the recordings and sourced rare archival materials to tell Menuhin's story.

Also

Who's Yehudi? - Yehudi Menuhin BBC documentary

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