I'm not going to give one of those silly POVs like "he was the greatest ever" or "he is the most over-rated ever".
I'm trying to understand the YM phenomenon.
Some child prodigies burn out. Or they achieve at 10 what others achieve at 21, then they stop and all the others catch up during the next 11 years.
In 1980 Nicholas Daniel won the BBC Young Musician Of the Year prize on the oboe. He still does occasional gigs and session work, and he may be doing very well, but I'd never listen to him in preference to Heinz Holliger. The 2nd prize that year went to a girl who played the Mendelssohn violin concerto. Some felt she should have won. She's a physiotherapist now.
And I would guess that Menuhin was such a prodigy who came along in a golden age of violin when there was a boom in the record industry and a boom in radio. His violin playing went off the boil, but his popularity didn't, because he maintained a high profile - he founded a school and he became a television personality. When I say went off the boil, well, I've heard things by him that have underwhelmed me. He can sometimes play slowly and ponderously. I've read about TV guest appearances that have embarrassed everyone. I have his autobiog which I am about to read. I gather something went wrong with his right arm?
Similarly people imagine Stephane Grappelli was the best jazz violinist ever, but Reinhardt preferred Michel Warlop, who died of TB in 1947; and Grappelli rode the wave of post-war television popularity. I saw Grappelli with Menuhin on TV in the 70s. God, it was awful. Otoh, there are always people in the world of music who don't retire until they are well over the hill and rely on nothing but the love of their fans.
I've made up much of the above to give me a simple picture I can grasp and for you to get your teeth into.
What do you agree with, and what do you disagree with?
There are some wonderful recordings of the mature Menuhin: tender, expressive Mozart concertos, an unequalled rhapsodic fervour in concertos by Bruch (Dminor), Bartok (including by far the best version of the viola concerto), and Bloch; Chausson's Poème, Beethoven Kreutzer and Spring sonatas with Kentner, Bartok's sonatas with his son Jeremy, Elgar's sonata with Hephzibar, and the 1976 discs of Bach's sonatas & partitas, heart-rending and majestic.
Gnashers to the ready.
I don't prefer Warlop to Grappelli. Warlop was more of a virtuoso, Grappelli more lyrical. If Django's preference was for Warlop, it was a personal thing.
We mustn't forget that benchmark recording of the Elgar VC Menuhin made in the 1930s in his teens with Elgar himself conducting. The post-WWII LP of it is one of my prized recordings.
I prefer Lockwood to Grappelli. Partly because I don't prefer the "gypsy jazz" sound, and partly because I think Grappelli relied too heavily on an arsenal of flashy, crowd-pleasing licks rather than the kind of melodic improvisation that I associate with idiomatic jazz. Justin Anick is a better jazz violinist than Grappelli ever was. I mean that sincerely. Grappelli was the first "great" one with international fame and the ability to bring huge names on stage with him, that's why he's lionized. With Django he created an original sound -- and that's a big achievement. My favorite Grappelli recording is the one with Oscar Peterson -- another master of flashy licks with a very long career. I saw Oscar in the 80s -- he was topping the billboard charts in the 50s. A lot of the popularity had to do with "accessibility" which is why Peterson, Errol Garner, and Dave Brubeck became household names. None of them rank among my favorite players though. Certainly not in terms of originality. Note that Lockwood cut at least two albums in tribute to Grappelli. And they're very good albums.
The standard analysis is that his problems were psychological. Doubtless there were family issues, as well as the trauma of the war, but the big factor seems to have been the fact that he learned too easily, and then froze when he realized that it would be a good idea to think it all through. I knew a musician who was also a psychologist and he saw Menuhin completely scramble a performance of Wieniawski's Scherzo-Tarantella. The sort of thing that a stage-fright-ridden teenager might have messed up on in his lesson.
Another note about the Elgar-- I know the composer was happy with Menhuin's work. There are a few bits of gossip online about why Kreisler was not chosen for the job. He had premiered the piece, after all. Perhaps fees, or his age (gotta promote the new man). But another rumor was that he had told Elgar that it needed cuts and the composer wasn't pleased.
In the 70s,(probably '75 or '76) I was a member of the Ulster Orchestra. We had a "celebrity fund", and for the inaugural concert, Sir Yehudi ( as he then was) played the Beethoven with us. It was magical, and his sister said there was something special about the Belfast audience.
I agree I don’t enjoy Menuhin’s recordings and I do not like his viola playing in any way, particularly the bartok concerto
I'm really skeptical of any Menuhin recording, even though I have heard good ones, and despite my teacher tirelessly advocating for his recordings (She balks whenever I suggest Kogan - De gustibus). I just don't tend to like his sound for the most part.
After Enescu, he went to Adolph Busch. A fantastic violinist, but maybe not quite the teacher he needed. Carl Flesch in his memoirs lamented that he'd not had a chance to crack the case.
First recording of his I heard (it was a video to be precise) was his 1982 performance in Leipzig of the Brahms concerto. I think he played it with a lot of feeling and intensity. Orchestra was pretty good too (violin section was really good!).
Viola? I don't like his Walton concerto, his Frank Martin ballade, nor his Brahms viola sonatas, and I don't try to sound like him, but I find his playing completely apt in the Bartok concerto.
I don't believe so. It is available on DVD (and VHS before that). There is a video on YouTube but it's of poor quality (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWPD1pMkaOQ).
Menuhin showed his human side when he wrote and published "Unfinished Journey." He was a prodigy and he rose, by his own admission, too fast by his parents, Persinger, et al. In the later chapters of his book he points out that there was a period where he had to stop performing and go back to rebuild skills that he had glossed over during the rapid rise.
His very style doesn't fit very well with the Sarasate. But he did a Tzigane in the 30s that is a better match, and that is quite stunning.
One possibility is that it has become stylish to dump on Menuhin. Seriously.
Another tidbit, this from The Guardian's obituary of Andre Previn:
@ Gordon. As a classicaly trained violinist, Warlop, deeply, almost despairing, envied the natural ease of Grappelli's playing. He wanted more than anything to devote himself to jazz, but never got over the stiffness of his training. If Django said he prefered him, it was most likely because of Django's and Stephan's rivalry and the homophobic attitude of
Menuhin had a long career, but his greatest success as a player came in his youth. As he got older, he was plagued by the shadow of his earlier success. He became quite nervous before performance and spent years looking for remedies, such as massages before every performance, experiments with shoulder rests, playing shirtless, yoga, and practicing in multiple positions. His illustrious early career haunted him for the rest of his life, but he did accomplish much as an ambassador of the violin.
@Jeff. Excellent points, although maybe a little circular, since Grappelli's sexuality is still a matter for some speculation.
To your rescue Gordon, I may have some doubts about Menuhin's sound and consistency, but there is stuff of his that I quite like. I can't stand listening to Heifetz in just about anything - Once in a while he surprises me, but I don't detect a beating heart in his playing (regardless of him not being alive). I realize mine is not the most common opinion. His Sibelius is just awful!
Maybe, instead of just Menuhin, the "golden age of violin" needs an overhaul of its reputation - with a view to balance?
@ Gordon, You are mistaken. I know for a fact
"In some more lyrical and tender pieces [Heifetz] does go a little too fast for my liking."
There was a very nice thread on Menuhin some 14 years ago, just for your reference:
@jean. Yeah I saw that and skimmed it, but it seemed too gushing.
@jean. Yeah I saw that and skimmed it, but it seemed too gushing.
On YouTube search for "the young yehudi menuhin encore", there are numbers 1 through 5 of them. These fragments, for me, make very clear that young Yehudi was not just your ordinary prodigy. He *is* the music. Perlman says somewhere about this: "prodigy? forget Mozart".
Menuhin's many attempts to recover his childhood ease helped him to analyse the motions of playing to a remarkable degree.
Skimming through the 2006 thread I'm interested and saddened by how the prevalent perceptions and opinions have changed. My take on that is we're far more technique-obsessed these days and the time when great and not-so-great musicians were appreciated as individuals with unique qualities as well as flaws is long gone (excepting Jean and Adrian and a few others)
I found his book "6 Lessons..." to be odd, maybe dangerous. In his autobiography and in a filmed interview he admitted that his phase of self-analyzing the mechanics of his playing was not helpful. His centipede story went something like this; Someone asked the centipede in what order did he place his feet while walking. The answer was " I don't know, I never thought about it." And from that moment he could not walk at all. The moral of the story is that if you are that talented, that skilled at such an early age, Do Not analyze your playing. You will get into a mental feedback loop, like a dog chasing his tail. As mentioned already, he has some the definitive recordings, like the Elgar concerto and the Enesco Sonata #3. He branched out into other genres, having the courage to play next to jazz master Grappelli. I only did one concert with him. I thought his playing was strangely disconnected from self, but his warm-up back-stage was amazing, doing high velocity scales in parallel thirds.
Gordon, it's interesting to compare Sandy's thread to yours. Sandy concluded his original post with, "If you feel the same way, what is it about this artist that you believe made him so compelling?" It's not surprising, then, that many of the ensuing comments painted Menuhin in a positive light. Your original post, in my opinion, showed less intrinsic bias.
@Gordon. Yeah I saw and skimmed this thread of yours, but it seemed too biting.
People can like who they like or dislike who they dislike without it having to be some kind of fashion - I get that tastes change over time, but I'm not inferring that from the "fashionable" statement. It's kind of condescending to assume that people can't truly have their own opinions on things.
The one time I saw Menuhin play live was sometime in the mid 50's when he performed Bartok 2 to a packed house of over 2000 in Bristol's Colston Hall. I, and a couple of dozen others from Bristol Youth Orchestra were in the audience near the back on the ground floor, and what impressed us was his projection, as it is called now, and this meant something to us kids because our orchestra had recently gave a concert in that splendid venue. We could clearly hear every note he played, no matter what the orchestra was doing. I think he must have been nearing 40 then and still at the height of his powers.
I cannot for the life of me recollect names...…
As a piano teacher, my day job, it was not unusual for my students to get perfect marks in the odd piece even at the highest grade. Now that was my interpretation not theirs. Anybody know who taught Menuhin the Elgar? Save me googling it? Thanks.
I don't think anyone needed to teach Menuhin the Elgar concerto; it's all there on the page. I daresay Enescu gave him a few suggestions but I doubt he studied the piece himself. When the 16-year-old Menuhin first met Elgar he had been learning it for just 2 months; Elgar is supposed to have said it was "just fine". Menuhin may have had access to Albert Sammons's recording from 3 years earlier but it's very different in style.
Did he have a teacher at age 16?
As much as folks say about Menuhin's concern for others, all I can say is that if he had been born in, say, 1960, by now he'd probably have a really swell blog.
Trevor, the story I heard on BBC radio was that Elgar went off to the races, not that he went to play golf.
John, thank you for the correction. Off to the races must indeed be the most likely because Elgar was an avid fan of the sport and the Cheltenham race course was not too far from his home in Worcestershire.
Just add: He was a better conductor than the orchestral players he conducted would admit.
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