Yehudi Menuhin, Baron Menuhin, OM, KBE (April 22, 1916 – March 12, 1999) was an American-born violinist and conductor who spent most of his performing career in the United Kingdom. He was born a U.S. citizen, but became a citizen of Switzerland in 1970, and of the United Kingdom in 1985.
Yehudi Menuhin was born in New York City
, New York
, to Russian Jewish
parents from what is now Belarus
. His sisters were the concert pianist and human rights worker Hephzibah Menuhin
and the pianist, painter, and poet Yaltah Menuhin
. Through his father Moshe Menuhin
, a former rabbinical student and anti-Zionist writer, Menuhin was descended from a distinguished rabbinical dynasty. Menuhin began violin instruction at age three under violinist Sigmund Anker. He displayed extraordinary talents at an early age. His first solo violin performance was at the age of seven with the San Francisco Symphony
in 1923. Menuhin later studied under the Romanian composer
and violinist George Enescu
, after which he made several recordings with his sister Hephzibah. He was also a student of Louis Persinger
and Adolf Busch
. When a child and an adolescent, his fame was phenomenal. In 1929 he played in Berlin, under Bruno Walter's baton, three concerti by Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. Albert Einstein is said to have exclaimed at the end of the concert, "Now I know that there is a God!"
World War II musician
Yehudi Menuhin performed for allied soldiers during World War II
, and went with the composer Benjamin Britten
to perform for inmates of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
, after its liberation in April 1945. He returned to Germany
in 1947 to perform with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
under the baton of conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler
as an act of reconciliation, becoming the first Jewish
musician to do so following the Holocaust
. He said to critics within the Jewish community that he wanted to rehabilitate Germany's music and spirit. After building early success on richly romantic and tonally opulent performances, he experienced considerable physical and artistic difficulties caused by overwork during World War II
as well as unfocused and unstructured early training. Careful practice and study combined with meditation
(the latter he mostly learned from B.K.S. Iyengar
) helped him overcome many of these problems. His profound and considered musical interpretations are nearly universally acclaimed. When he finally started recording, he was known for practicing by deconstructing music phrases one note at a time.
Menuhin continued to perform to an advanced age, becoming known for profound interpretations of an austere quality, as well as for his explorations of music outside the classical realm.
Menuhin credited the German-Jewish philosopher Constantin Brunner
with providing him with "a theoretical framework within which I could fit the events and experiences of life" (Conversations with Menuhin: 32-34).
In 1952, Menuhin met and befriended the influential yogi B.K.S. Iyengar before he had come to prominence outside India. Menuhin arranged for Iyengar to teach abroad in London, Switzerland, Paris and elsewhere. This was the first time that many Westerners had been exposed to yoga.
Menuhin made several recordings with the German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who had been criticized for conducting in Germany during the Nazi era. Menuhin defended Furtwangler, noting that the conductor had helped a number of Jewish musicians to flee Nazi Germany.
In 1962 he established the Yehudi Menuhin School in Stoke d'Abernon, Surrey. He also established the music program at the Nueva School in Hillsborough, California sometime around then. In 1965 he received an honorary knighthood. In the same year, Australian composer Malcolm Williamson wrote a concerto for Menuhin. A deeply spiritual and profoundly moving work, he performed the concerto many times and recorded it at its première at the Bath Festival in 1965.
In 1997 Yehudi, along with Ian Stoutzker founded the charity Live Music Now, the largest outreach music project in the UK. LMN pays and trains professional musicians to work in the community bringing joy and comfort to those who rarely get an opportunity to hear or see live music performance.
Menuhin's pupils included Nigel Kennedy, Hungarian violist Csaba Erdelyi and violist Paul Coletti. Arguably the most famous of Menuhin's violins is the Lord Wilton Guarneri del Gesù made in 1742.
In the 1980s Menuhin wrote and oversaw the creation of a "Music Guides" series of books; each covered musical instruments with one on the human voice. Menuhin wrote some whilst others were edited by different authors.
Menuhin regularly returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, sometimes performing with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. One of the more memorable, later performances was of the violin concerto of Sir Edward Elgar
, which Menuhin had recorded with the composer for HMV
in London in 1932.
On 22 April 1978 along with Stéphane Grappelli, Yehudi played Pick Yourself Up, taken from the Menuhin & Grappelli Play Berlin, Kern, Porter and Rodgers & Hart album as the interval act at the 23rd Eurovision Song Contest for TF1. The performance came direct from the studios of TF1 and not that of the venue (Palais des Congrès) from where the contest was held.
He also hosted the PBS telecast of the gala opening concert of the orchestra from Davies Symphony Hall in September 1980.
During the 1970s, '80s and '90s, he made jazz recordings with Stéphane Grappelli, classical recordings with L. Subramaniam and albums of Eastern music with the great sitarist Ravi Shankar. In 1983 he founded the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists in Folkestone, Kent.
His 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 January 2001 at age 84. In total he recorded over 300 works for EMI, both as a violinist and as a conductor.
In 1990 he was the first conductor for the Asian Youth Orchestra which toured around Asia, including Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong with Julian Lloyd Webber and a group of young talented musicians from all over Asia.
Yehudi Menuhin was married twice. He first married Nola Nicholas, daughter of an Australian
industrialist, and sister of Hephzibah Menuhin
's first husband Lindsay Nicholas. They had two children, Krov and Zamira. Following their divorce, he married the British ballerina and actress Diana Gould, with whom he had two sons, Gerard and Jeremy, a pianist.
The name Yehudi means 'Jew' in Hebrew. In an interview published 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.
In November 2005 his son Gerard was forced to resign from his post as chairman of the Yehudi-Menuhin-Stiftung for criticizing the exploitation of Holocaust expressing his opinion that "Germany was being blackmailed by an international Jewish conspiracy preying on the country’s war guilt". Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish professor in politics, has written on the subject in his book The Holocaust Industry.
A picture of Menuhin as a child is sometimes used as part of a Thematic Apperception Test.
Lord Menuhin died in Berlin, Germany following a brief illness, from complications of bronchitis.
Soon after his death, the Royal Academy of Music acquired the Yehudi Menuhin Archive, one of the most comprehensive collections ever assembled by an individual musician.
Awards and Honours
- In 1965, while he was still an American citizen, he was made an honorary Knight of the Order of the British Empire. This entitled him to use the postnominal letters KBE, but not to style himself Sir Yehudi. After gaining British citizenship in 1985, his knighthood was upgraded to a substantive one, and he became Sir Yehudi Menuhin KBE.
- 1972 awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize (Denmark)
- 1986 Kennedy Center Honors
- In 1987 he was appointed a member of the Order of Merit
- In 1987 his recording of the Edward Elgar: Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 with Julian Lloyd Webber won the BRIT Award for Best British Classical Recording. The recording was also chosen as the finest ever version by BBC Music Magazine.
- In 1990 he was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize in recognition of his lifetime of contributions.
- In 1993 he was made a life peer, as Lord Menuhin of Stoke d'Abernon in the County of Surrey .
- He was awarded honorary doctorates by 20 universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews and Vrije Universiteit Brussel
- In the European Parliament in Brussels, the room in which concerts and performances are held is called the "Yehudi Menuhin Space"
- He was a Freeman of the cities of Edinburgh, Bath, Reims and Warsaw
- He held the Gold Medals of the cities of Paris, New York and Jerusalem
- in 1992 he was announced as an Ambassador of Goodwill by UNESCO.
" popular in the 1930s and 1940s was inspired by Menuhin's guest appearance on a radio show, where Jerry Colonna
turned "Yehoodi" into a widely recognized slang
term for a mysteriously absent person. It eventually lost all of its original connection with Menuhin.
Yehudi Menuhin was also 'meant' to appear on The Morecambe and Wise Show but couldn't as he was 'opening at the Argyl Theatre, Birkenhead in 'Old King Cole'. He was instead replaced by Eric Morecambe in a famous sketch featuring the conductor Andre Previn
Yehudi Menuhin was referenced in an episode of the US television series Sports Night. The episode, “Celebrities”, featured an after hours game of Celebrities among the Sports Night staff. Dan Rydell, one of the fictional show’s co-anchors, gave clues to his teammates in a game of Celebrities, trying to get them to guess the name Yehudi Menuhin. He had shown his co-anchor, Casey McCall, a secret hand gesture that would clue him in to say “Yehudi Menuhin”, but during the game, Casey forgot the secret signal, and couldn't recall Menuhin's name.
- Menuhin, Diana (1984). Fiddler's Moll. Life With Yehudi. New York: St Martin's Press.
- Menuhin, Yehudi (1977). Unfinished Journey. New York: Knopf.
- Subramaniam, L.; Menuhin, Yehudi; Directed by Jean Henri Meunier. (1999). Violin From the Heart. [DVD].
Menuhin was also mentioned a number of times in Pat Conroy's novel The Prince of Tides.
- 1979 - The Music of Man (television series)