“Make sure you have a good amount of time working on your scales and arpeggios.”
This is what Eugene Ÿsaye told 10-year-old Menuhin at the meeting in Brussel.
Menuhin was on a European tour for concerts in 1926 flying from New York with his Jewish-Russian family, all of which were oustanding success. And then he went to Brussel to see Ÿsaye for a lesson under the recommendation of his current teacher Louis Persinger (who was a pupil of Ÿsaye).
There he played Lalo’s Symphonie Espaňole for Ÿsaye, which he indeed liked and appreciated, but was much in doubt when he tested this 10-year-old boy to see if he could play A major thirds over four octaves. He apparently did not fail to detect young Menuhin’s biggest weak point that emerged for no longer than a minute.
Many a music critics and audiences on the face of the planet experienced in astonishment the promising genius and the magnificence of Menuhin’s exceptional musicianship from his early age, and they admired and followed him throughout his career. Jascha Heifetz also witnessed him in the audience when Menuhin made his debut in New York in 1926, and so pretty much everyone in the city had heard of him and knew who he was. Bartok wrote his Violin Concerto and his Violin Sonata for him. So did Bloch with the “Abodah”.
During a film session of November 1965 in a spacious Vienna studio, with Vienna Symphony Orchestra (not the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra)Herbert von Karajan conductor, Yehudi Menuhin soloist. Menuhin first met Karajan in the summer of 1949 in Chile of all places, where he was conducting the local orchestras on a South American tour.
His artistic purity and timbral expressiveness is never questioned, and never will be. What separates him from many other violinists who’re no better than a ‘violinist’, I believe, is that he was completely unpretencious in his manner and he was literally a poet who could speak his mind exactly as he felt. He said that his music would have been only dry and suffocating had he buried himself in lifeless, tedious, monotonous daily routines.
We still talk about him today, after nearly twenty years since his death.
However, NOT everything he did in his performance was accurate.
In fact, he was quite far from it ― after all, he was a human being who had strengths and weaknesses, quirks and flaws just like anyone else..
There are things he demonstrated which, if you’re a part of those people (including myself) who grew up watching Menuhin on television, you may be under the influence you had better stay away from.
And just so you know, this is not me being fallacious. I have seen far too many players like that in my whole life.
So what’s wrong with his playing?
In that footage above it’s not so obvious, but he wasn’t particularly good at keeping time. He often hurried in syncopated rhythms and other ostinati where a sequence of certain rhythms occurs. On the other hand, Karajan was someone who would not tolerate any slight rhythmic or tempo errors from his ensemble members, ―whether they be orchestral players or singers ―, and he would permanently drill them all until bad rhythms vanished ― an absolute perfectionist. It’s an interesting combination to see them both together.
Menuhin uses a lot of bow, in fact a little too much at times. Not only is it too much, but also the bow moves too fast around the turns of bow. Look at the video again.
Why is it bad if the bow is too fast around the turns of bow? Because that’s how you play an accent. If every single bow-turn happened so fast, you’d end up playing notes with accents whenever you go from ⊓ to ∨ and vice versa regardless of any musical context. I’ve found violinists guilty of this all too often, all too widely.
3. The left hand
Menuhin generally coped with all the notes well in graceful sound. Though his sixteen-notes (Brits say semi-quavers) in fast passages are rather sketchy, not least in higher positions he seems considerably insecure. Ÿsaye noticed it before anyone else.
As he later admitted himself, he realized something very important was missing in his playing in spite of all the feverish success he had enjoyed hitherto. He eventually decided to learn the technical basics from Carl Fresch and re-equip himself with the much-neccesitated disciplines he lacked in all seriousness. At this point he was already past the age of 20.
Playing music was to him what gave his life an utmost pleasure and way of human expression. He was a child prodigy whose innocence and youthful inspiration shined through everywhere. He was able to play everything effortlessly without practicing much, because his fingers did all the work for him. But perhaps I wonder that ‘innocence’ was carrying him in and out of the rapidly changing scenes without him realizing for too long before he could ever offer himself time to reflect, to correct his bad habits and to put himself back on track (so to speak).
There’s a line from the Bible: “the crooked shall be straight”.
It is never too late to work on or correct anything.
All it takes is a little bravery and patience.
If you have anything you wish to improve and you have the courage to confront it like Menuhin did, then I promise you’ll be well on your way to achieving some remarkable result.
I’m off to improving myself for many things now.