Yehudi Menuhin's Potent Blend Of Music, Humanism And Politics : Deceptive Cadence With a career that began at age 7, the violinist became one of the 20th century's most beloved musicians and so much more than a virtuoso.
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Yehudi Menuhin's Potent Blend Of Music, Humanism And Politics

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Yehudi Menuhin's Potent Blend Of Music, Humanism And Politics

Yehudi Menuhin's Potent Blend Of Music, Humanism And Politics

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Being a virtuoso is pretty impressive on its own. But one of the great violinists of modern times was also so much more. He pushed political boundaries and even brought Iyengar Yoga.

Yehudi Menuhin would have been 100 years old today. He was born in the Bronx to Russian immigrants. His life, beginning as an astounding child prodigy, is well-documented. But NPR's Tom Huizenga tracked down two men who knew him well to talk about what else drove him.

TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: First off, we shouldn't forget what a virtuoso Menuhin was. Here he is at age 11.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YEHUDI MENUHIN: (Playing violin).

BRUNO MONSAINGEON: He was the most celebrated infant prodigy in history, together with Mozart.

HUIZENGA: That's Bruno Monsaingeon. He's made documentary films about Menuhin and just produced a massive 80-CD box set. It was Menuhin's sound that made him pick up the violin. Same goes for renowned violinist Daniel Hope, whose mother was Menuhin's secretary. He spent most of his childhood in the violinist's home listening to Menuhin play.

DANIEL HOPE: And the sound has so many layers to it. It hugs you. And it was ginormous, and yet it had a kind of an anguish and a pain to it which is highly emotional at the same time.

(SOUNDBITE OR ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MENUHIN: (Playing violin).

HUIZENGA: Educating young musicians became a mission for Menuhin as he told NPR in 1992.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MENUHIN: I feel that music is a birthright as much as air and water and food. I would love to see the day begin in every school with children singing and dancing.

HUIZENGA: Menuhin invited the 16-year-old Daniel Hope to tour with him for 10 years. That's when Hope discovered another side of Menuhin.

HOPE: We had life-changing conversations about everything from music to humanism to politics. And he believed passionately that musicians had to stand up for what they believe in.

HUIZENGA: And Menuhin practiced what he preached. During the 1940s, he played hundreds of concerts for Allied troops in hospitals and near the front lines. Bruno Monsaingeon says Menuhin's heart was broken by what he saw.

MONSAINGEON: Literally broken. And I think one can hear that in is playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVE MARIA")

MENUHIN: (Playing violin).

MONSAINGEON: The "Ave Maria," he would always say, he said to me, as a kind of prayer for those who might not return.

HUIZENGA: Right after the war, Menuhin shocked the worlds of music and politics when, as a Jew, he performed with German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MENUHIN: (Playing violin).

HUIZENGA: Furtwangler was accused of having ties to the Nazis. Daniel Hope says playing with the conductor was a prime example of Menuhin, the bridge-builder.

HOPE: And it was a radical decision on his part to say I'm extending the hand of friendship.

HUIZENGA: Menuhin later squabbled with the Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians. He also gave impromptu concerts for poor South Africans under apartheid.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MENUHIN: (Playing violin).

HUIZENGA: In 1952, Menuhin traveled to India where he studied yoga with B.K.S. Iyengar, a man he would later introduce to the rest of the world. Menuhin also acquired, Bruno Monsaingeon says, a strong taste for Indian music.

MONSAINGEON: He heard Ravi Shankar for the first time, and he brought Shankar immediately to Europe and made those famous recordings of Indian music.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAVI SHANKAR AND YEHUDI MENUHIN SONG, "TENDERNESS")

HUIZENGA: After Menuhin's death in 1999, Ravi Shankar told NPR that one of the keys to understanding Menuhin was his self-effacing personality.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

RAVI SHANKAR: His humility I have never seen in any Western musician and hardly even in Indian musician (laughter). Believe me.

HUIZENGA: Menuhin needed a little humility when, later in his career, his bowing technique began to fail. He took up conducting. But Bruno Monsaingeon says even Menuhin stopped playing the violin, you could still hear the instrument in his conducting.

MONSAINGEON: The Schubert symphonies have something special in that you can hear Menuhin's violin sound in an orchestra. It's something which is really unbelievable because lots of people considered that he was no conductor.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANZ SCHUBERT SONG, "SYMPHONY NO. 5 IN B FLAT MAJOR")

HUIZENGA: Yehudi Menuhin turned out to be many things, but first and foremost, Daniel Hope says, he was a generous human being.

HOPE: Menuhin was so much more than just a violinist. He was a passionate believer in being a better person and making a better world.

HUIZENGA: And the way to do that, Menuhin said, was to reach out to people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MENUHIN: One has to have the hunger for communication, for giving. One has to have a sense of compassion.

HUIZENGA: And that's exactly what poured out in Menuhin's music. Tom Huizenga, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF YEHUDI MENUHIN SONG, "VIOLIN SONATA IN D MAJOR")

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