Born April 22, 1916, in New York, NY; son of Moshe and Marutha Sher Menuhin (name originally Mnuchin; both teachers); married Nola Ruby Nicholas, 1938 (divorced); married Diana Gould, 1947; children: (first marriage) Zamira (daughter), Krov Nicholas; (second marriage) Gerard, Jeremy. Education: Studied violin with Sigmund Anker and Louis Persinger in California; Georges Enesco in Paris and Romania; and Adolf Busch in Basel, Switzerland. Addresses: Record company-- Symphonic Music Co. Ltd., 65 Chester Square, London SW1, England.

There are few great musicians whose careers have enjoyed both the productivity and longevity of Yehudi Menuhin's. Indeed, he was a child prodigy in the U.S. in the 1920s, as beloved by audiences as child film star Shirley Temple was in the '30s. But unlike many prodigies, his career has never waned. For decades he has been active not only in music, but also in promoting human rights and international understanding; as such, he is one of the world's most admired, respected, and honored figures.

Menuhin was born in 1916 in New York City to Russian Jewish immigrants who were both teachers. In 1918 the family moved to San Francisco. Because he exhibited a precocious interest in music, Menuhin's parents granted his request for a violin, and he began studying in the San Francisco area, first with Sigmund Anker and then with San Francisco Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Louis Persinger. His first professional appearance came at the age of seven, at Oakland Auditorium in Oakland, California.

Fate smiled on the Menuhins in 1924 when a family friend introduced them to Sidney Ehrman, a San Francisco lawyer and philanthropist. Ehrman was so taken by Yehudi's musical talent, and by that of his sisters Yaltah and Hephzibah, that he volunteered to pay for the family's expenses in order for the children to pursue their musical careers. His generosity allowed the family to go to Europe, where Yehudi studied with the violinist Georges Enesco; the family followed Enesco back to the U.S. in 1927.

It was that year that Menuhin made his Carnegie Hall debut, an appearance that launched him to instant stardom. He was a sensation--a mere boy of ten playing "grown up" concertos by Beethoven and Brahms with a mature understanding of the music that left observers breathless. After a concert he gave in Berlin in 1929, a wild-haired man approached Menuhin, embraced him, and exclaimed: "Now I know there is God in heaven!" The man was Albert Einstein.

During the 1930s Menuhin continued to give concerts, pursued a burgeoning recording career, and went on his first world performing tour, in 1935. During World War II he gave hundreds of concerts for Allied soldiers and relief organizations. He was the first foreign musician to perform in liberated Paris, and he played for prisoners who were awaiting liberation from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Menuhin's humanity is coupled with a serenity that he attributes largely to his discovery of yoga in the 1950s. His playing reflects his personality: it is lucid, straightforward, and earnest, without romantic sweep or emotional pathos. He is an impressive interpreter of such 18th-century composers as Bach and Mozart and is equally at home in the language of the 20th century; in fact, several composers, among them Bela Bartok and William Walton, commissioned works especially for Menuhin.

In 1959 Menuhin took up residence in England, and in 1962, he founded the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, where intensive musical instruction is combined with traditional elementary and high school classes. Carrying on his role as a world citizen, Menuhin has championed jazz and non-Western music, performing with musicians such as Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar and French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.

Menuhin died of a heart attack on March 12, 1999, in Berlin, Germany, where he had traveled to conduct the Warsaw Symphony Orchestra.

by Joyce Harrison

Yehudi Menuhin's Career

Made professional debut, Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, CA, c. 1923; gave first recital, Scottish Rite Hall, San Francisco, 1925; (with New York Symphony Orchestra) made debut at Carnegie Hall, New York City, 1927; made first recordings, 1928; (with Bruno Walter and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra) performed concerto program, Berlin, 1929; mounted first world tour, 1935; gave concerts for Allied troops and relief organizations, 1940s. Author of Theme and Variations, 1972, autobiograpy Unfinished Journey, 1977, and (with C. W. Davis) The Music of Man, 1980. Founded Yehudi Menuhin School, Surrey, England, 1962. Principal guest conductor, Warsaw Sinfonia, 1982--, English String Orchestra, 1988--. President and associate conductor, Royal Philharmonic, 1982--.

Yehudi Menuhin's Awards

Nehru Award for Peace and International Understanding (India), Canadian Music Council Gold Medal, Kennedy Center Honor, Brahms Medal, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), Legion d'honneur (France), Croix de Lorraine (France), Order of Merit (Germany); honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II, 1965.

Famous Works

Further Reading


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