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Yehudi Menuhin's Centenary. Two Musicial Geniuses, Enescu and Menuhin, United for Eternity
These days we celebrate 100th anniversary of a great American musician by birth, English by adoption later, Sir Yehudi Menuhin (22nd April, 1916 - 12th March, 1999), whose life and work were deeply influenced by the personality and art of George Enescu (1881-1955). There were written thousands of pages about this very special relationship between two artists from two culturally diverse and well defined spaces, separated by 35 years of age, relationship in which the disciple became, over time, the friend who remained with his Maestro without whom his life and artistic work would have been unimaginable. These facts are well known, but to round up this evocation, I have chosen two written stories that are entirely edifying. The first one is an excerpt from an interview that George Enescu gave to Béla Katona, a reporter in Oradea, and published under the title What's the Latest Breaking News across the Town on page 11, in the Szabadság Periodical, on 20th December, 1936. The Romanian translation was signed by Theodor Sugar and the interview was published in the volume signed by musicologist Laura Manolache in George Enescu. Interviews Given to the Romanian Press, 2 volumes (in 1988 and 1991), the second edition, the Musical Publishing House, Bucharest, 2005, pages 305-307:
"You need to know that sea travel is the best opportunity to rest. Incidentally, I love going to America. It has been a year since I last saw my favourite disciple."
At this moment, Mr. Cohen speaks; he was Enescu's musical agent for over three decades:
"Ask your Maestro to tell you his encounter with that Jewish youth."
Enescu smiled to the elderly gentleman, who was dressed with severe elegance, and then, not waiting to be asked again, he started telling the story:
"Well, it's been ten years since then; it was spring time. At that time, I happened to be in Paris to play along with their symphony orchestra. I was in my dressing room with Bares (correctly spelt Barrère), the renowned conductor, I was smoking my intermission cigarette and an American gentleman came in; he was accompanied by a young boy who was holding a violin case with one hand. He told me, in broken German, that he had just arrived from San Francisco wishing to improve his boy's playing skills. Then, he brought out some American magazines with the boy's photo along with some favourable reviews."
Bares (correctly spelt Barrère), remarked forthwith in French:
"Monsieur Enescu, I thought that by now you must have had enough of so many wonder children."
The child, apparently knowing a little French, replied proudly at once:
"I do not want to become a wonder child, but a real artist."
Nevertheless, I asked him how he had decided to come to me. His father replied:
"We were recommended three artists in New York: Ysaÿe, Flesch and yourself. We listened to the first two and now, yourself. My son wants to study further with you."
Meanwhile, the child had taken the violin out of its case. The concert I was playing was Bruch's Concerto in G minor; the intermission was almost over. The child started playing the cadences of that concert. When he reached the tenth measure, Bares (correctly spelt Barrère) interrupted him:
"I agree to play with him in two weeks' time."
Again, the father was the one who spoke:
"We do not have time for this. My son must take lessons with maestro Enescu!"
"Yes," I said, "but for now, it is impossible."
"Because tomorrow morning at dawn I am setting off to Romania. I'll be delighted to teach the boy in autumn, when I come back to Paris. Until then, if you want to talk to me before that, here's my address in Sinaia where I am living."
The intermission bellwas summoning us. The concert had to go on. In the morning, I left by the Alberg express train...
Only three days of rest had passed in Sinaia, when, one afternoon, the butler gave me a visiting card. Luckily, the visiting card contained the address of the visitor, who was from San Francisco. So, I remember quickly the name of my little acquaintance who had paid me a visit in Paris: Yehudi Menuhin.
"For seven years, he spent a month at my place every year. I used to teach him violin classes in my hotel room in Bucharest. Later, I myself sent him to Busch, Kreisler and Flesch, lest the force of my personality should put a too strong imprint on that of the future artist; but, he always returned. He was a virtuoso at the age of 12; at 15, he was already a mature artist. Later on, we had nothing more to talk about apart from the intricacies of the style. I think ... I can be proud of him."
Enescu's disciple, whom the maestro was so proud of and who later became one of the greatest violinists of the world, revealed, on every occasion, his love, reverence and gratitude for his maestro. Their professional relationship was doubled by a sincere human bond and, as we already know how their relationship had begun according to what Enescu told us in his interview, of all Menuhin's evocations and interviews, I have chosen one that ... marked the end; in The Music magazine, 1958, Issues Nos. 10 and 11, (p. 68), in the interview he gave to Dan Spătaru, Sir Yehudi Menuhin said:
"This is a recollection that I will not never erase from my soul, a painful recollection that happened between us then and which had the air of a separation between two people that only death could separate.
I last saw him some time before the end of 1954, at his home on Rue de Clichy in Paris. He was lying in bed, weakened, but very calm. Only the bright flame of his gaze was still sparkling showing that his spirit had not stopped pulsating and had not lost its characteristic liveliness. I looked at his strong hands that had given life to so many wonderful beauties, but who were now powerless and I shuddered.
He invited me to sit next to him and WE LOOKED AT EACH OTHER SILENTLY FOR SOME TIME. It did not matter what we talked about afterwards because our words were hiding the reality: Enescu was paying farewell to life. I felt that his gaze was trying to give me the breath of life and energy he still had and suddenly, as if he had made a sudden decision, he told me he wanted to give me one of his violins, a Santa Serafino that he had played on when he was Hellmesberger's student in Vienna. He also asked me to take care of his other violins until telling me what his decision regarding those violins might be. His hesitation of making the final decision was impressive, as if the last drop of hope would still allow him to keep them and not give them away; but his final gesture of giving me a violin was speaking for itself: Enescu was looking straight ahead at his destiny and was not to be deceived by his transient weakness.
Needless to continue, I cannot describe to you the impressive atmosphere which further dominated our last meeting. I would like to stop here ... ."
It is obvious that, after Enescu's physical disappearance, Menuhin continued to venerate his memory on every occasion, recognising his beneficial influence on his spectacular career. The Israeli violinist's participation, as far as it was possible at that historical moment, in the biggest and most important Romanian musical event of broad international resonance, the 'George Enescu' International Festival and Competition, is the main topic of this writing.
Three years after George Enescu's death (1881-1955), there was the official opening of the first edition of the Festival, doubled by the competition, on 4th September, 1958. Among the personalities who attended that inaugural edition were important names of the international stages, such as, David Oistrah, Halina Czerny-Stefańska, Nadia Boulanger, Monique Haas, Iacov Zak sau Claudio Arrau, Sir John Barbirolli, Carlo Felice Cillario, Carlo Zecchi and obviously Yehudi Menuhin. In the same interview he gave to Dan Spătaru (The Music Magazine, 1958, Issues Nos. 10 and 11, p. 67), he expressed his interest in the Romanian state's initiative to organise such an internationally renowned festival doubled by an international competition:
"... I must say that I am deeply moved by the wonderful proof of admiration that the
'George Enescu' International Festival and Competition creates. This demonstration made by an entire country, which was joined by so many personalities of the world's music life, is impressive. I can tell you that due to the presence of some of these personalities in the competition's jury and of others in the concerts performed, due to the amplitude, admirable organisation of the whole event and large number and high quality of the competitiors, the 'George Enescu' International Festival and Competition has an artistic level that ranks it among the most successful events of its kind known to me. This is sincerely gratifying and I heartily congratulate those who contributed to this great success."
Yehudi Menuhin participated in four editions of the 'George Enescu' International Festival and Competition in 1958, 1973, 1995 and 1998.
In 1958, on 17th September, at the Great Hall of the Romanian Athenaeum, Yehudi Menuhin gave a recital for solo violin pieces that included: Partita No. 2in D minor for Solo Violin by
Johann Sebastian Bach, Partita No. 3in E major by Johann Sebastian Bach and the SoloViolin Sonata by Bartok; and as a soloist of the Violin Concertoin D major by Brahms with the 'George Enescu' Philharmonic Orchestra directed by George Georgescu, on 18th September. There was also a memorable evening when, for the encore, the American violinist went on stage along with the Russian violinist David Oistrah to play the Concerto for Two Violins in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach. The musicologist Viorel Cosma evokes that unique event with excitement:
"I was at the Romanian Athenaeum and I was walking together with the Jean-Victor Pandelescumusical critic to the dressing room of maestro Georgescu George. There was great joy in there: the craftsman Gogu Georgescu was resolving a dispute between David Oistrakh and Yehudi Menuhin, who were arguing fervently as to whose Stradivarius violin had better sonority, his own or the latter's. 'How about reconciling the East and the West in the Double Violin Concerto by Bach?' - maestro George Georgescu asked. Jean-Victor Pandelescu said: 'This would deliver a blow to the Cold War!' At that moment, Yehudi Menuhin suggested to Oistrah that they should swap the Stradivarius violins and play Bach's famous concert at the festival on the evening of 18th September. On the evening of the concert, the old Athenaeum building was under siege. The room was brimming with emotion. Only Menuhin, Oistrah and Georgescu seemed emotionless. After the final chord of Bach's Double Concert, offered outside the programme, there was silence. After that, there was a burst of storming applause. During the burst of applause, Oistrah went to Menuhin, held him in his arms and the Romanian Athenaeum simply 'caught fire'. It was a moment I will never forget." (Interview with Viorel Cosma conducted by Ecaterina Stan in The Diary of the Festival, Issue No. 13/18th September, 2007, p. 2).
The chronicle entitled The Violinists, published by Jean-Victor Pandelescu in The Music magazine, 1958, Issues Nos. 10 and11, p. 60, contained specialised commentaries on both Yehudi Menuhin's concerts during the first edition of the 'George Enescu' International Festival:
'Yehudi Menuhin also performed a recital that was one of the most beautiful and most important artistic performances: two Partitas by Bach and Bartók's Sonata for Solo Violin. (...) I confess that I listened to Menuhin's interpretation with a sense of profound awe (...).
The first piece he interpreted was Partita No. 3in E major by
Johann Sebastian Bach (...) Of a particular difficulty in terms of its technical accomplishment, the prelude was played with full precision and purity of tone and seemingly effortless. After the serene and somewhat rustic Loure with its characteristic subsided tone, the interpreter played the Gavotte with the most appropriate moderate movement, specific to this old French dance. The two minuets presented with great distinction and with a graceful movement evoking a ball at the royal court, gave way to a fluid Bourrée and the Partita ended with a joyful jig, Menuhin's tone seeming to be of a rare amplitude, beauty and power.
Bartok's SoloViolin Sonata dedicated to Menuhin himself, ignited the interestof the audience. The pathos and the deep understanding with which he played the popular character of the piece, as well as the fiery bravura of the performance, that culminated with the 'perpetuum mobile' of the final scherzo-rondo, offered Menuhin warm ovations.
From Partita No. 2in D minor for Solo Violin, we will insist on Chaconne. (...) George Enescu's thoughts on this wonderful structure called Chaconne are well known: ... two tableaux deep at both ends with a divine ray of sun in the middle, which illuminates everything. We are glad to prove that we discovered Menuhin's interpretation in its completely Enescian essence. (...) Perceiving the thrilling life that resounds within the walls of this magnificent monument of sound and understanding the magnificence of the profoundly human feelings that lay at its foundation, the interpreter returned them to us with brightness and modesty, similarly to George Enescu's style.
Regarding Menuhin's participation as a soloist, at the 'GEORGE ENESCU' Philharmonic, when under the baton of maestro George Georgescu, he performed the Concertofor Violin and Orchestra in D major by Brahms, we would like to point out that this great violinist did not allow himself to stray away from the classical interpretation with which, we all knew, George Enescu and Jacques Thibaud played - thus being said, the traditional musical line afore mentioned (Joachim- Marsick- Enescu and Thibaud) and was felt in the first impetuous attack of the first movement, in the warmth and reverie played in the adagio and in that correct and settled tempo in allegro giocoso; especially the latter tempo problem, played by some young violinists almost always too fast, has to be analysed carefully, because the rapid unreeling of the movement, devoid of the necessary 'ballast', breaks the line of the work ... ."
Alternately, in 1958, Yehudi Menuhin was a member of the jury of the 'George Enescu' International Festival and Competition, the violin section, together with George Georgescu - President, Yvonne Astruc (France), Sir John Barbirolli (England), Carlo Felice Cillario (Italy) Henri Gagnebin (Switzerland), David Oistrach (USSR), Alexander Plocek (Czechoslovakia), Sasha Popov (Bulgaria) and Romanians Garabet Avachian, Francisc Balogh, Dimitrie Dinicu and Ion Dumitrescu. Two winners shared the first prize: Semen Snitkovski (USSR) and the Romanian violinist Ștefan Ruha who had studied in Cluj.
In 1973, Yehudi Menuhin returned to Bucharest and performed a chamber concert and a symphony concert at the 'George Enescu' International Festival. Incidentally, the days the public could applaud the American violinist were the same as in 1995: 17th and 18th September. On the evening of 17th September, at the Great Hall of the Romanian Athenaeum, Yehudi Menuhim interpreted the chamber recital together with his sister, pianist Hephzibah Menuhin. The programme included The Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor 'In the Character of Romanian Folk Music'by George Enescu, Violin Sonata No.7, Op.30 No.2 in C minor by Beethoven and the Violin Sonata No 1 in G major Op 78 by Johannes Brahms. On 18th September, along with the Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, the conductor Iosif Conta and violinist Ion Voicu, Yehudi Menuhim appeared as soloist in Beethoven's Violin Concerto and, obviously intended, in the same Double Violin Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach. We detach the appreciation of these two concerts from the chronicle that same tireless chronicler Jean-Victor Pandelescu published in the Music magazine in Issue No. 10/1973, p. 7 under the title, Yehudi-Hephzibah Menuhin Recital; Menuhin-Iosif Conta and the Radio and Television Orchestra Concert. As always, the chronicler closely linked the interpretation of the American violinist to his mentor's view, the well-renowned Romanian George Enescu, as well as to the feelings of deep friendship and respect that had tied the two giant artists for decades.
"The last concerts of the festival were marked by Yehudi Menuhin's presence. It has been almost half a century since Menuhin - one of the greatest violinists of the world - has spread good music everywhere, as he learned from his famous predecessor and mentor, George Enescu. The never ending affection and gratitude he feels for the latter, determined him not to miss the Festival which perpetuates the memory of our illustrious musician, this time again. Together with the remarkable pianist Hephzibah, his sister (herself, George Enescu's student), Menuhin performed a sonata recital in the beginning. The simple lordliness and graceful modesty displayed by these renowned performers, is both fascinating and prodigious. (...) The pièce de résistance of the recital was TheViolin Sonata No. 3 in A minor 'In the Character of Romanian Folk Music' by George Enescu. The interpretation of both performers was so inherent to Enescu's composition, that, I confess, when closing my eyes, I often had the impression that the interpreter was Enescu himself playing the piece either on the piano or the violin, as we had been accustomed to listen to over the years. Actually, the Yehudi-Hephzibah duo has always played TheViolin Sonata No. 3 with the love and full confidence that has matched the demanding and difficult interpretation this sonata requires. These artists are true keepers of our folk traditions in terms of rendering the characteristics of their chromatic and melismatic Oriental influence, and those fourths and sixth tones that Enescu wrote so meticulously. (...) The enthusiasm generated among the listeners was enormous and the two artists repeatedly played the final parts of the Sonata enthusiastically.
The recital was concluded with The Violin Sonata No 7 in C minorby Beethoven. Here too, Beethoven's specific style appeared filtered, often due to George Enescu's interpretative style that started the initial part with a somehow bleak image, when the pianist performed the grave chords particularly effective, giving the impression of dramatic coldness. The Adagio was played by the violinist with a calm and serene feeling so that the two interpreters should impart to the Scherzo a really joking and cheerful tone. Ultimately, the final Allegro was played passionately, with intense emotional recreation, and that Olympian artistic standard that the two great artists have never wavered.
Then, at the concert of the Radio and Television Orchestra, conducted by Iosif Conta, Yehudi Menuhin performed the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra by Beethoven. The interpretation of the soloist was that of both a poet and a musician tempered in the fire of his many appearances with this forever young work. Once again, we have all learned another lesson from Menuhin. (...) ... one of the most pleasant surprises! Violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Ion Voicu were determined to celebrate the memory of George Enescu, by performing the Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra byJohann Sebastian Bach, a piece that our great musician, particularly praised."
The last two participations of Lord Yehudi Menuhin in the 'George Enescu' International Festival were to be as a conductor. On 7th September, in the AL. I. Cuza Hall of Romania's Parliament Building, the musician opened the 1995 edition conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, based in London, with a programme consisting of the Suite No.1 by Enescu, the Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra by Brahms, with Liviu Prunaru as a soloist, and Symphony No.1 by the same composer.
Musicologist Petre Codreanu found some strong arguments that seemed to have mattered in the choice of the repertoire and the ensemble:
"Lord Yehudi Menuhin's thoughts and his feelings about Enescu are too well known to resume them here. The illustrious disciple of the great Romanian musician, at his almost eight decades of life, is one of the sacred monsters of classical music. These are only two of the reasons why he has been invited to conduct this monumental ensemble - the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra based in London - in the opening of the XIIIth edition of the 'George Enescu' International Festival. In the making of the programme, we can distinguish several meanings. The beginning with the Suite No. 1 by Enescu, whose first part is the praise of the composition structured on finely perfumed folkloric themes, is undoubtedly emblematic. Brahms's Violin Concerto, that revealed Enescu to the young Menuhin, was entrusted (with justified or implied nostalgia) to young Liviu Prunaru; finally, Symphony No. 1 by Brahms, known to Enescu directly from its source and transmitted to Menuhin as such. (1995, The Music magazine, Issue No. 3/1995)"
The last year when Yehudi Menuhin's name was connected to the 'George Enescu' International Festival was 1998, when, on 11th September, at the Royal Hall, he conducted the Budapest Festival Orchestra to perform Suite No. 2 by George Enescu, Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra by Bartók, with Peter Frankl as a soloist, and the Concert for String Orchestra by the same composer.
I deliberately left at the end, a totally special relationship between the American musician and the most important Romanian music festival named after George Enescu, his great mentor and friend. In 1991, the organizers announced, through the voice of Ludovic Spiess, the director of the festival at that time, and with the support of Andrei Plesu, the Minister of Culture at that time, the fact that they offered Lord Yehudi Menuhin the title of First Honorary Director of the Festival. Regrettably, the musician's refusal was firm on the background of the 'Mineriade', 13th - 15th June, 1990! On 20th June, 1990, Mrs. Vera Lamport, Yehudi Menuhin's private secretary, communicated, in an official letter addressed to the Minister of Culture, that the maestro would be unable to participate in the September edition of the Festival.
The letter that contained the personal refusal signed by Yehudi Menuhin (dated London, 23rd July, 1990) and addressed to Mr. Mihai Constantinescu, ended with these words:
"I am anxiously awaiting the day when a Romanian Gouvernement will win the trust of the world."
There passed until 1998, when the same Sir Yehudi Menuhin same - along with the artistic director, conductor Lawrence Foster - would inaugurate the series of Honorary Presidents of the 'George Enescu' International Festival. It is a position that brings important international prestige to the Romanian event. Tradition builds up hard; only in 2001, the composer Roman Vlad joined as Honorary President, the artistic director, Cristian Mandeal; and in 2003, along with the same artistic director, Cristian Mandeal, the Honorary President was Ioan Holender, the director of Vienna State Opera. Since 2005, when Mr. Holender became the artistic director, he renounced the position of Honorary President as a teammate, for six editions. For the 2017 edition, the Festival's organisers have already announced conductor Vladimir Jurowski's name as artistic director, while maestro Zubin Mehta himself will be the wonderful Honorary President.
Over time, the musician Yehudi Menuhin's fame helped a lot in strengthening and enforcing the 'George Enescu' International Festival and Competition at the highest level internationally. Referring to his much loved and respected mentor, the American violinist states that "it was inevitable and perfectly logical that my boundless reverence towards him would one day win over his care and protection" (Viorel Cosma, essay entitled Enescu, Menuhin and Romania. Bucharest, July, 2009). And the one who became 'the favourite disciple' did not hesitate, even after his maestro's death, to foster with the same boundless awe, his memory and musical heritage, while the 'George Enescu' International Festival and Competition offered him the generous and prestigious framework to do so.
Translated by Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, the University of Bucharest