Yehudi Menuhin was famous from the age of 10 and is considered one of the greatest violinists of the twentieth century. This violinist, conductor and personality in the media spotlight was also a tireless campaigner for humanitarian causes, world peace and human rights.
Yehudi Menuhin was the son of Russian Jews who had emigrated to Palestine and then to the United States. He started learning the violin at the age of five, first from Sigmund Anker in San Francisco, then from Louis Persinger, a disciple of Eugène Ysaÿe.
After the Menuhin family moved to Paris in 1927, Menuhin made his debut at the Concerts Lamoureux, conducted by Paul Paray. This was where he met the violinist and composer Georges Enesco, who took charge of his musical training. His teaching was decisive for the young violinist's subsequent career, helping him become a well-rounded, peerless musician. Menuhin also honed his skills with Adolf Busch in Basel, before cutting his first recording in 1928. His international career took off in 1930 when, at the age of 19, he embarked on a world tour comprising 110 concerts. During World War II, Menuhin supported the allied forces by giving over 500 concerts.
Invited to India in 1952 by the Indian statesman Jawaharlal Nehru, Menuhin discovered a new and beneficial source of meditation during his travels, in the form of yoga and spiritualism. He had his first encounter with Indian music and struck up a friendship with Ravi Shankar.
In the 1950s, Menuhin was the driving force behind the establishment of the Gstaad Menuhin Festival and the Bath Festival Orchestra (which later became the Menuhin Festival Orchestra). With the latter, he learnt how to conduct an orchestra, and this gradually became his main activity. His commitment to musical education led him to found the Yehudi Menuhin Music School in Surrey, a boarding school for young children recruited from all over the world. He also set up the Yehudi Menuhin Foundation to boost the career of budding artists.
In the course of his career, Menuhin bought several very famous instruments, notably the Prince Khevenhüller (1733) and the Soil (1714) by Stradivarius and the Lord Wilton (1742) by Guarnerius del Gesù. He also played various Stradivarius and del Gesù violins that were lent to him by collectors or great musicians.
Menuhin's interests were not confined to music: he also took a keen interest in art, politics, psychology and philosophy. He frequently took a stand on humanitarian issues or in support of ecology and human rights. From 1969 to 1975, Menuhin headed the International Music Council, a non-governmental organization funded by UNESCO, and campaigned for various artists and intellectuals persecuted by totalitarian regimes, such as Mstislav Rostropovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Miguel Angel Estrella.
Six landmark dates in the life of Yehudi Menuhin:
1927: Menuhin made his debut at the Concerts Lamoureux, conducted by Paul Paray
1952: Menuhin resurrected Mendelssohn's first violin concerto
1952: Menuhin travelled in India, where he discovered yoga and spiritualism
1965: Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II
1981: Appointed President of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London
1993: Queen Elizabeth II made Menuhin a life peer, as Baron Menuhin, of Stoke d'Abernon.
Biography compiled from Radio France Musical Documentation (March 2016)