Menuhin the Miracle Boy
Why George Enescu gave the teenage Menuhin free violin lessons
In the April issue of BBC Music Magazine, we celebrated the centenary of Yehudi Menuhin's birth. As part of an in-depth examination of Menuhin's life, we explored the importance of the relationship between the teenage Menuhin and his teacher, George Enescu. Menuhin's biographer Humphrey Burton tells us more...
Yehudi’s teenage years were mostly spent in Europe, initially financed by a wealthy San Francisco lawyer, the city being immensely proud of its famous son. Heading first for Paris, like all artistic Americans, he gave two sensational concerto performances within weeks of his arrival and having politely but firmly declined to study with Ysaÿe (who criticised him for not knowing his scales and arpeggios) he personally persuaded the great Romanian violinist and composer George Enescu to take him on as his first pupil. Yehudi was under Enescu’s spiritual and musical guidance throughout his teens. He never took a penny in fees, declaring that he learnt as much as he taught. Flush with cash earned on Yehudi’s lucrative American concert circuit, the Menuhin family rented a lovely villa outside Paris and the children became bi-lingual. (Hephzibah was nick-named Mme Larousse because she knew all the exceptions in French grammar.) Enescu suggested a period of intense study with the outstanding German violinist Adolf Busch so that Yehudi could acquire a better sense of self-discipline – Enescu pointed out that the boy came to him each week with a different set of bowings and fingerings.
So for a while the entire family moved to Basel (Busch had quit his home country in protest at the rise of the Nazis) and the children acquired fluency in a third language, German. It was a childhood without team games, without the playground’s rough and tumble, and without outside friendships, but from the musical standpoint Yehudi’s was the best education a violinist could ask for. His innocent affection for the showy encores was balanced by a deep love of Bach, instilled by Persinger and expanded by Enescu and particularly by Busch. Mozart also had a special place in the boy’s mind: Yehudi identified closely with the Salzburg teenager and played his youthful violin concertos with great flair.
This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in the April issue of BBC Music Magazine.