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Yehudi Menuhin, an incredible man of music

The death of Lord Menuhin in a Berlin hospital yesterday after a brief illness closes a unique career in music. Born 82 years ago in New York of Russian-Jewish parents, he became a musical prodigy and made his public debut as a violinist at seven years of age. He quickly achieved fame throughout Europe. A meeting in his early teens with Elgar brought about the amazing HMV Abbey Road recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto when Menuhin was 16. Throughout his life the desire to serve others was paramount. It manifested itself in many ways, especially the founding of the Yehudi Menuhin School in 1962 to assist gifted young musicians.

His busy life of playing and conducting slowed down in recent years. It did not cease, for his visit to Berlin was for a concert earlier this week. Many tributes from world leaders to one of the greatest musicians of this century are summed up by French President, Jacques Chirac, 'with him, a light has gone out, the light of genius and also the light of the heart'.


Yehudi Menuhin 1916 - 1999

'Sooner or later every birth must become a death'
- Yehudi Menuhin, Unfinished Journey
'He has it in his power to develop into perhaps the greatest poet amongst all violinists, alive or dead' - Neville Cardus on the young Menuhin

1916 Born in New York on April 22nd, his parents were Jewish Russian immigrants who encouraged him musically with the best teachers.

1924 A child prodigy, Menuhin's official (and brilliant) debut at the age of seven was on February 29th with the San Francisco Symphony. By the time he was thirteen, he had played in Berlin, London and Paris.

1927 Began studies with Enescu. Performed the Beethoven Concerto in New York's Carnegie Hall with the NYSO under Fritz Busch: 'a world celebrity overnight'

1928 Made his first gramophone recordings

1932 Soloist in the Elgar Concerto at Elgar's 75th birthday concert, conducted by the composer.

1938 Married Nola Nicholas, daughter of an Australian millionaire.

1939-45 Gave over 500 concerts for American and allied troups.

1944 Played Bartok's Sonata for solo violin (written for Menuhin) in New York.

1945 Performed for the survivors of the newly-liberated Belsen concentration camp

1947 First Jewish artist to play with Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra after the war, despite criticism from the Jewish community worldwide. Remembered in Berlin for making that 'first contact with cultural Germany'. Divorced Nola on grounds of 'simple incompatibility'. Married the ballerina Diana Gould later the same year.

1952 First visit to India. Formed a lasting friendship with Prime Minister Nehru. Met Ravi Shankar, with whom he made several charity recordings.

1956 Established the Gstaad Festival in Switzerland.

1958-68 Director of the Bath Festival.

1959 Made his home in London.

1960 Awarded the Nehru Peace Prize for International Understanding.

1962 Founded the Yehudi Menuhin School. Menuhin: 'The most blessed and privileged of all callings is that of the musician, who acts as interpreter, inspirer, teacher, healer, consoler, and, above all, as a humble servant. These are the human roles I would endeavour to cultivate among my beloved group of young students, who enrich my School not only with their burgeoning talents but with the great diversity of their cultural backgrounds.'

1965 Honorary British Knighthood.

1969-72 Director of the Windsor Festival.

1972 Publication of Theme and Variations (essays).

1976 Honorary doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris.

1977 Founded the International Music Academy for Young Graduate String Players in Switzerland (Gstaad). Published his autobiography Unfinished Journey.

1985 Became a British Citizen.

1987 Knighted.

1992 Appointed as Ambassador of Goodwill to UNESCO.

1993 Made a life peer.

1996 New complete cycle of the Beethoven symphonies with Menuhin conducting the Warsaw Sinfonia released to mark his 80th birthday. 'The refreshing response ... of a great interpretative musician who remains perenially young' - Penguin Guide.

1997 Recognised for his humanitarian work, Menuhin received the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Distinguished Peace Leadership Award. Read Menuhin's letter to the heads of state of the European Union.

1999 Died in Berlin on March 12th, aged 82, of heart failure, having cancelled a concert with the Warsaw Sinfonia three days earlier. Isaac Stern said that 'Yehudi Menuhin was a major figure in this century: an extraordinary musician, and a great humanitarian'. Menuhin's biographer Humphrey Burton described him as 'The world's greatest violinist'.