This April is the centenary month of Yehudi Menuhin, who was born in New York on 22nd April 1916, to Russian-Jewish parents. Described by his biographer Humphrey Burton as “the most famous kid on the planet” Yehudi was playing full-length recitals by the time he was eight, and had begun recording by the time he was eleven.
The family moved to Europe when Yehudi and his two sisters, Hephzibah and Yaltah, were children. Although he traveled a great deal throughout his life, Menuhin seems to have felt most affinity for England, spending much of his career there and becoming a British citizen in 1985. He felt that he owed his affection for England, and his “close relationship and good understanding of the English character” to Elgar, with whom he had made one of his first recordings, of Elgar’s violin concerto, when he was just 16.
An extremely musical family, Yehudi and his sisters, both pianists, had a number of teachers on their travels, including George Enescu and Adolf Busch. Hephzibah and Yaltah were also very talented musicians, often performing with their brother. Menuhin went on to befriend many other performers and composers, including Britten, with whom he toured in Germany after the war, and Bartók, who wrote his penultimate work for Menuhin, the Sonata for Solo Violin. Menuhin later wrote an affectionate memoir of Bartók.
Although classically trained, Menuhin was also interested in other musics, and was one of the influences by which Indian classical music became better known in Europe and America, through his work with Ravi Shankar. He also recorded with the jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli
In addition to his performing career, Menuhin had plenty of energy and enthusiasm left over for other things that were important to him. He directed the annual Bath Festival for nearly a decade, and founded the Gstaad Menuhin Festival. He also devoted himself to many other causes, and believed that music was a language capable of ‘reaching people through every barrier, disability, language and circumstance‘ He founded the Yehudi Menuhin School for musically gifted children, and also Live Music Now, which works to bring live music to those who might not otherwise have access to it.
There are many events going on to celebrate Menuhin’s centenary, Such as the RAM Menuhin 100 events, and you can also find celebrations going on in Cambridge – Fitzwilliam College, where Menuhin was an Honorary Fellow, has been hosting a series of centenary concerts.
At MusiCB3, resources on Menuhin include, at the UL…
‘Menuhin: a life’ at classmark M557.c.200.7 – Humphrey Burton’s biography of Menuhin.
‘Violin: six lessons with Yehudi Menuhin’ at M622.c.95.15, helpfully illustrated with lots of little diagrams of Yehudi!
and at the Pendlebury…
‘Unfinished journey’ at classmark Pb.571.91M.M1 – an autobiography, in which Menuhin recounts, among other things, the story of rehearsing the Elgar violin concerto with the composer, only for Elgar to disappear off to the races halfway through.
Brahms violin concerto conducted by Adrian Boult – CD.M.923
Bartok violin concerto conducted by Antal Dorati – CD.M.539
As well as all this, the Desert Island Discs archive includes an interview with Menuhin, which is well worth a listen.