Yehudi Menuhin 1916 – 1999
February 13, 2009
Yehudi Menuhin, Baron Menuhin, OM, KBE 1916 – 1999 was a violinist and conductor.
Yehudi Menuhin was a strong advocate of homeopathy throughout his life, and and he was a Trustee of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital alongside Adrian Cedric Boult, John Bertram Leslie Ainsworth, Kenneth Biddis, Marjorie Blackie, Douglas Morris Borland, Carl Davies, Dudley Wooton Everitt, Donald MacDonald Foubister, George MacLeod, Douglas Medlicott Gibson, and John Weir.
Yehudi Menuhin was a friend of Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, who was also a strong advocate of homeopathy. Menuhin was also a friend of Ravi Shankar who is also a strong advocate of homeopathy.
Yehudi Menuhin is quoted as saying:
’Homeopathy is the safest and most reliable approach to ailments and has withstood the assaults of established medical practice for over 100 years’. Daily Telegraph August 12, 1989
’Homeopathy is one of the rare medical approaches which carries no penalties - only benefits‘. Dana Ullman Discovering Homeopathy
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!”
In 1932, he recorded Edward William Elgar’s Violin Concerto in B minor for HMV in London, with the composer himself conducting.
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 Furtwangler 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 the war as well as unfocused and unstructured early training.
Careful practice and study combined with meditation and yoga helped him overcome many of these problems. His profound and considered musical interpretations are nearly universally acclaimed. When he finally resumed recording, he was known for practising 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 Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar before he had come to prominence outside India. Menuhin arranged for Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja 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 Furtwangler, who had been criticized for conducting in Germany during the Nazi era. Menuhin defended Wilhelm 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 violin concerto for Menuhin. He performed the concerto many times and recorded it at its premiere at the Bath Festival in 1965.
In 1983 he founded together with Robert Masters the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists. Now one of the world’s leading competition for young violinists many of its prize winners have gone on to become some of today’s most exciting violinists. Among them are Tasmin Little, Nikolaj Znaider, Ilya Gringolts, Julia Fischer, Daishin Kashimoto and Lara St. John.
In 1991 he was awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize by the Israeli Government. In the Israeli Knesset he gave an acceptance speech in which he criticised Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank with these words,
“This wasteful governing by fear, by contempt for the basic dignities of life, this steady asphyxiation of a dependent people, should be the very last means to be adopted by those who themselves know too well the awful significance, the unforgettable suffering of such an existence.
“It is unworthy of my great people, the Jews, who have striven to abide by a code of moral rectitude for some 5,000 years, who can create and achieve a society for themselves such as we see around us but can yet deny the sharing of its great qualities and benefits to those dwelling amongst them.”
In 1997 Yehudi 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 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 Edward William Elgar’s Violin Concerto, which Menuhin had recorded with the composer in 1932.
On 22 April 1978 along with Stephane 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 Stephane 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 1999 at age 82. 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: it is a variation of the name Yehudah, a name given by Jacob, and one of the tribes of Israel. It means “Thanks to God”…
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.