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The Human Touch

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THE general belief is that there is something abnormal about an infant prodigy and that there is nothing more pathetic than the prodigy grown out of infancy and emerging into manhood. I believe that psychologists have conducted reearches into the matter and that some of these researches tend to the conclusion that once out of their infancies and teens, prodigies become have beens. It seems rather sad to reflect that after a brief flash of hot-house glory, a person should end his life, and begin to refer to a past, at the age when the average person begins his life and starts planning for the future. They say that there is a compensating law of nature, according to which the life which ripens quickly stops Geveloping sooner than that life which is more slow in ripening toward maturity.

I called on Yehudi Menuhin with no psychological intention. I saw the young violinist, broke bread with him, walked and talked with him for more than an hour and, what is more important, saw him and spoke with him in the matrix of his family. In no single moment of the three hours that I spent with the Menuhins did I have the consciousness that a show was being put on for my benefit, or that the routine of those three hours was altered in the sliglitest degree. There was the give and take of table conversation and differences of opinion between father and son were freely aired. On neither side was there any imposition of authority and one cluld sencse in young Menuhin’s manner a quiet tenacity of intellectual purpose. I emerged from that intervew with the assurance that Yehudi Menuhin is not only a gifted young violinist, but a rich personnality maturing in every direction. He is as unusual in other ways as he is in the role in which the public is aware of him-a violinist.


yehudi Menuhin is seventeen years of age and the first blond down is flecking his cheeks. He is tall and slightly heavy. He is slow of speech and deliberate of thought. He answers your question with less words than your question took. I don’t think he likes gush, and insincerity in another makes him uncomfortable. I have a felling that he manifests this anticipation of discomfort by a disinclination to look you straight in the eye. He thinks of many things besides his music. For a performer who carries in his mind the widest violin repertoire in the world and who can fill Carnegie Hall to the brimming-over point for two consecutive performances, he is most remarkable for the range of his curiositles. For example: the other night he was awake for half and hour solving, by mathematics, a card trick which had been performed the previous evening to the puzzlement of his elders. “In the dark.” he told me “it is easiex to concentrate.” He is intensely interested in Russia and he believes that Russia has a solution for the world. He plans some day to visit the soviet states. He is keen on languages and although he can use several now with easy fluency, he is haveing tutors in others, in which he is weak, notably Russian, Spanish and Italian. He counts Hebrew as his mother tongue. he reads widely and during the months when he is not toring-months usually spent in the Menuhin’s summer home outside Paris-he plays in quartets with the teacher to whom he believes he owes most, the Rumanian composer, Gorges Enescuo, whose instrument is the viola. Yehudi is perfectly willing to take the second violin part in a quartet, an unusual thing for virtuosi who unsually have the world’s stage to themselves.

heretofore, for at least two months out of the play months of the year, the violin is wrested from the loving grip of Yehudi, and he returns to his music with the grater zest therefore, but hereafter, he teels me, he will no be parted from his fiddle. It is easy to believe now that in years past his violin had to be gently wrested from him fro he was always practicing and playing of his own volition. The elder sister, Hepzibah, who is now more than thirteen, now performs with such capability on the piano that Yehudiregards it as no condescension on his part to play sonatas with her. The younger sister, Yalta, who is seven, and no less blond than Hepzibah, is at present on the sidelines. Neither parent is musical. “From what ancestor could your son have got his gift?” I asked the father. The gift is not explained by heredity, replied Mr. Menuhin, and quoted his wife as saying that if the gift came from as ancestor, it came from none other than King David.


Yehudi Menuhin, now seventeen, has been performing on the concert stage for almost ten years and at no time has he not been self-possessed and at ease with his audience, no matter how vast. Part of the explanation lies in the manner of his upbringing and the upbringing, for that matter, of the other Menuhin children. At no time was Yehudi put in his place, or excluded from the company of elders, or denied part in the conversation of the mature. There was no time in his memory during which he was put in the children’s corner, figuratively speaking. I observed that during the fourcornered conversation at luncheon, young Yehudi, his father, mother and myself, Yalta and Hepzibah sat as interested spectators and auditors and there would have been nothing amiss had they spoken up, no matter how abstruse the subject matter might have been. And there is another explanation of Yehudi’s self-possession on the concert stage. He sees his relation purely to the music, not to the audience. If he performs the music to his own satisfaction, applause is so much velvet; if he does not, the applause cannot give him any satisfaction. Years ago-it is already possible to write “years ago”-in Minneapolis, when he was performing the Brahms concerto for violin, and forgot a passage in the music, instead of faking the forgotten bars, he stopped, walked over to the conductor and whispered, “I wouldn’t bluff Brahms,” which phrase, when repeated to the audience by the conductor, raised a storm of applause. The orchestra began the movement again, the forgotten phrase returned to Yehudi’s memory and he played that concerto as he had never played in public before. The point of the anecdote is this: the violinist was considering chiefly his relation to the music, and to nothing else, “I wouldn’t bluff Brahms” -or Beethoven, or Bach, or Mozart, or Schubert or Schumann, or any composer whose music is on his repertoire.

At the present time Yehudi regards himself as a performer of music, not as a specialist narrowing down his choices of music of be played, or as an “interpreter.” He expressed his opinion that beauty can justify itself only through serving a prachtical purpose. I someone palys, and no one hears the palying, how, asked young Menuhin, can any one know that the playing is beautiful. Although he may not know it, he is stating in another form the question: If a tree falls in the heart of the jungle and no one hears it, can it be said to have fallen? To Yehudi that tree has not fallen, for practical purposes. Even the coloring of a flower, Yehudi reflects, serves the practical purpose of attracting the bees and aiding in the process of pollenization. Music must be heard and must be enjoyed; it must, in short, serve a practical purpose before it can serve an aesthetic purpose. He resents the evidences of misery in the world and would himself be much happier if he knew that the world knew joy rather than sorrow. “He is a radical boy,” said his father, and I could perceive Yehudi’s impatience at the slow rate at whcih the world is moving toward improvement. There was nothing more boyish about him, it seemed to me, than that impatience. To compress that point of view in a phrase: we all see how wrong things are, and where they are wrong; why in Heaven’s name don’t we right them – and right away? Why not indeed!

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