Lord Menuhin - overused the superlatives a bit?

December 8, 2006 at 06:04 AM · Over the past few years I've become quite interested in the violin, and one thing that seems to pop up with incredible regularity are these statements filled with superlatives and generous adjectives about dozens upon dozens of violinists and even violin makers.

It seems like every great violinist he's ever heard is the best, the most this or that. I'm starting to get the idea that in his later years he was a little cookoo. Has anyone else observed this?

Replies (34)

December 8, 2006 at 06:20 PM · Let's give Menuhin the benefit of the doubt. Let's say (for the sake of argument) that as he got older and wiser and more philosophical, he had more time to listen and began to appreciate the uniqueness of many, many other artists. While Menuhin was certainly eloquent in his command of the English language, there are just so many words that can be used to describe the best. After a while, maybe it just seems that he appears to be saying the same thing, when actually he "means" something different for each one.


Cordially, Sandy

December 8, 2006 at 06:53 PM · Maybe he was just a really nice guy, and sincerely believed when he listened to any given 'great' violinist that the violinist was 'greatest.'

You're the greatest poster on this board, Pieter. You too, Sandy.

December 8, 2006 at 07:48 PM · maybe sir menuhin was just really, really, really, reeeeeally happy.

December 8, 2006 at 09:12 PM · Maybe he inhaled a bit too much resin dust.

December 8, 2006 at 09:16 PM · Like Sander said about Menuhin "as he got older and wiser and more philosophical, he had more time to listen and began to appreciate the uniqueness of many, many other artists" .

This certainly came true to me the first time I heard Vadim Repin play!

December 9, 2006 at 01:08 AM · who was Menuhin anyway?

Big deal, and what did Busch say about him?

Who remembers Busch now?

Everyone seems to want to turn a letter from some "great artist" from the past to get a tyre burning start to a career...

Pity modesty is out of fashion!

December 9, 2006 at 02:51 AM · In response to your questions: Yehudi Menuhin was one of the finest violinists of the 20th century. Also, a great many people remember and know about Busch.

December 9, 2006 at 02:54 AM · That's funny. I noticed that a while ago too and just figured he's a really nice and supportive man. Whenever I skim through an article about any violinist and see his name mentioned I could almost quote the following lines, although he did know a lot of synonyms and switched up the adjectives just a little bit for each violinist he encountered.

December 9, 2006 at 08:17 AM · I noticed it too. Funny that you'd make a discussion about it.

December 30, 2006 at 02:06 AM · Menuhin's voice always tended to draw the best out of you. He was always thoughtful, enthusiastic, and immersed in the sublime. He was a great violinist, pedagogue (founded a school), conductor, violin collector, intellect, and champion of the violinist and music in general.

His memory and his technique started to retrograde in the 60's, but he was still vital up to the late 70's. Some of his last recordings should not have been made.

But considering his background, I'd listen, and did listen, to everything he said with very attentive ears.

December 30, 2006 at 02:17 AM · Does it really matter that Menuhin was too free with compliments & recommendations? It certainly seems preferable to laud others, than to laud oneself. If you look at many performers' websites, they are only too happy to describe themselves among the best of their generation. With strong competition, and the pressure to market and self-promote, there's plenty of hype to go around. What happened to the great, but self-effacing artist? Is that passé? Must everyone have a huge ego to succeed in today's market? Just curious.

December 30, 2006 at 07:14 AM · That's a good point Johnny. Menuhin was one of the most humble people I ever met, though the likes of Glenn Gould could rattle his chains.

December 30, 2006 at 07:39 AM · Of course. A little harmless observation and people get all melodramatic.

No, no one ever said that being humble and virtuous bad. What I said is that Menuhin does not simply say that X violinist is great, he says "greatest". He uses words like "most" and of course, the superlatives. He said this of many people, which I believe does the arts a great service, but when you do this so widely and your language is so absolute, one starts to realize how finite the scope of one single man can be. A lot of artists have some remark from Menuhin in their profile, and they all look remarkably the same... that's all I'm saying.

December 30, 2006 at 07:56 AM · I know he said good things about Vadim Repin and Sarah Chang. Who else?


December 30, 2006 at 05:35 PM · I think it's natural to talk like that when you first get enthusiastic about something new, until the emotion wears off and next thing takes your fancy. It's very healthy to take new things on board like that and get really excited by them. To me, this shows that Menuhin had this sort of vital appreciation of just about everything and everyone.

December 30, 2006 at 09:14 PM · So Jim, you're saying Menuhin was a really passionate artist?

Can't argue with that!

December 30, 2006 at 07:55 PM · Well, Jim, all I can say to that is "when you make love to me, don't make believe."

December 30, 2006 at 08:16 PM · Does anybody have a copy of that, or at least the lyrics? I was looking everywhere at one point. There's at least one other song too.

December 30, 2006 at 10:36 PM · quote: "Jim, ..... when you make love to me, don't make believe."

I am SO hoping right now that Jude Ziliak is a woman!

December 30, 2006 at 10:48 PM · Menuhin was a superstar...superstar's speak in superlatives because if they don't their comments quite often come back around to bite them on the butt. Besides, it's one thing to simply speak in superlatives, but it's another to back them up. Menuhin did the later. He'd always have a story or anecdote that would explain why he praised this or that violinist or musician so highly. As well, he was instrumental(sic) in bringing Oistrakh (and other Russian musicians) to the West, likewise many Asian violinists, and with musicians of different genres. How could he champion them if he didn't speak in superlatives? Those superlatives helped launch more than a few careers.

I think it's important to see the distinction between something like 'he spoke in superlatives about every violinist so how would one know who he liked more' and the fact that he used these superlatives because the world listened to him and this provided the opportunity for him to bring previously unknown or unappreciated musicians into the lime light.

Jim, this is off topic but...

So much in love

I'm back to dreaming again

Blue and sentimental

In Carnegie Hall

I know the lyrics for these songs are in the Music Division of the Library of Congress. If you did an interlibrary loan request for a photocopy and said you'd pay (if need be, usually you don't have to, and they'd tell you how much first anyway) you would probably get them. I've had several articles (even book length ones), photocopied and sent to me gratis from the Library of Congress.

December 30, 2006 at 11:00 PM · Rick that's a wonderful poem <3<3. I'm so flattered! Do you have any plans next weekend?

December 30, 2006 at 10:59 PM · Jim,

Here is Bing Crosby singing it:


and here is heifetz playing it on the piano


December 30, 2006 at 11:07 PM · Hi Pieter,

You're right...Menuhin got sloppier as the years went on and there seem to be many opinions as to why this happened. The most convincing argument, in my opinion, is that as Menuhin got older, he was unable to make the transition from child prodigy to mature artist. I say this because child prodigies often act on instinct or "natural ability" (whatever this means), rather than thinking out logically what needs to be done to get the required result. Therefore, Menuhin was able to do all this without thinking and when he matured, was unable to keep up.


December 30, 2006 at 11:52 PM · You know Jim, you're right, that's not a bad poem. Too bad I didn't write it. :)

December 30, 2006 at 11:59 PM · Who wrote it? Tell them to call me.

December 31, 2006 at 12:59 AM · 'The most convincing argument, in my opinion, is that as Menuhin got older, he was unable to make the transition from child prodigy to mature artist. I say this because child prodigies often act on instinct or "natural ability" (whatever this means), rather than thinking out logically what needs to be done to get the required result. Therefore, Menuhin was able to do all this without thinking and when he matured, was unable to keep up.'

I would have to dispute that, Menuhin did indeed mature into 'mature' artist - his musicality, depth of musical knowledge and emotion only were heightened by his years of experience - technically - he might of flown with instinct in his earlier years (which produced many bad habits), but later it could be said that he analysed if not over analysed violin technique - I think it has to be taken under consideration the enormous pressures Menuhin was placed under, especially during the war when he played still mostly instinctly - those years caused him much physical distress, he often describes in his AutoBio tensions he felt in his neck, left arm and the loss of a "light bow arm"

December 31, 2006 at 04:25 AM · Jude Ziliak is not a woman, but neither was Jascha Heifetz...

December 31, 2006 at 04:57 AM · Greetings,

I can see the attraction of the point Daniel raises. Menuhin alludes to the problems he had with this transition. But, and it is a veyr big but (as opposed to butt) if you take Daniel"s wording lirterally one is suggesting that Menuhin always played like a prodigy and never like a mature artist. Too many people have heard the mature artist for thta to stand up. For all its greatness one -can- in my opinion, hear immaturity in the playing of the Elgar he is so justly revered for. Personally, when I lsiten to him play the Chacconne on that video about great violinsits I am moved beyond belief. That is a mature artist par excellence in the same way Szigeti"s last recording of the Brahms somehow goes beyond the instrument.



December 31, 2006 at 05:59 AM · Is that the recording Szigeti made with Ormandy (of the Brahms)?

December 31, 2006 at 12:59 PM · Buri - I agree with you on the Elgar. I like the recording very much but every time I listen to it, it really seems like a kid is playing! I can see though, why this would move people though.

On another note, Menuhin had a very interesting (if not strange) tone, in my opinion. I can't even put my finger on describing it, because it's just so different than anything we hear today. I think it's in his vibrato..It was a wider and slower, perhaps?

December 31, 2006 at 01:29 PM · There was an interesting article about Menuhin in Commentary magazine shortly after his death that examined (among other things) the question of what happened to Menuhin technically as he aged. The theory was that his bowing technique self-destructed as he grew older because he had learned it from Persinger who learned it from Ysaye, and Ysaye had the same problem of self-destructing bowing technique in later life. People to whom I have proposed this explanation have argued that what happened to Ysaye resulted from his diabetes and not poor underlying technique. I wonder. However, from personal experience, I do know that Menuhin's intonation deteriorated as he aged.

December 31, 2006 at 03:45 PM · Maybe it wasn't only his bow arm (which everyone talks about) and his intonation (which has happened to a lot of older string players), but something about his left hand.

Somewhere on this website on another discussion thread about Menuhin, someone made the observation that on one of the films of him playing, his left hand vibrato motion was peculiar. It was a strange combination of a wrist and arm vibrato. The hand seems to oscillate not as a unit, but in sections, one part of the hand going in one direction and the other part going in another.

Perhaps this is what gave his vibrato that unique voice-like quality. It wasn't exactly pretty; it had a rough and jagged edge to it. Yet it was compelling and sounded like an authentic violin "voice," not like the product of technical flaws.

I don't know if you could even teach that vibrato to anyone. It doesn't seem to be evident in the films of the young Menuhin, but it must have been there, at least to enough of a degree to create that unique Menuhin sound that was evident throughout his performing life.

December 31, 2006 at 11:07 PM · Greetings,

Alan, I think Szigetis last Brahms was with the LSO and Herbert Menges. Its a Philips Classics release,



January 1, 2007 at 08:28 AM · Thank you.

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