Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yehudi Menuhin

I started reading Yehudi Menuhin's autobiography Unfinished Journey several years ago. Actually, I first found it in a library in Manchester in June 2003! I spent an hour or so browsing it there. But Manchester was a depressing place—it drizzled constantly, and there were basically no trees. So within days we had decided to hire a car and find someplace else to live.

But a few months later I found a second hand copy for sale for £2.50, and grabbed it. Yet I didn't get around to reading it until we'd been back in Australia for some time.

Two years ago, here's the brief review I wrote of what I'd read so far:

In accordance with the book's title, I have only got half-way through this book, and now it must be packed for our move to Mackay. Sigh. Worth reading, although I'm skipping quickly through some of it that I don't find interesting. I'd rather know more about his attitude to the violin (but he says he talks more about that in the latter half, which I haven't got to). I share his opinions of San Francisco (positive) and New York (negative).

Fortunately, he did talk more about violin playing, and music in general, in the latter part of the book. Technique-wise he puts great emphasis on flexibility. He gets a little carried away when he compares the violin to the piano! (“Who could lavish affection on a piano? Or cuddle it, or carry it in his arms, or put it to bed in silk and velvet?”) He also discusses the school he set up in England. He even mentions Suzuki, by whose method I first learnt to play the violin.

His cultural commentary makes very interesting reading. As a travelling performer he has been to many, many different countries around the world, in peace-time and in war. He makes remarkable cultural comparisons based on his experience, for instance in regard to individual performers vs team and chamber players, and the corresponding differences in sight-reading ability.

I especially enjoyed Yehudi Menuhin's stories about his music because in some ways my own musical journey has been quite similar. I also began with violin (though not as early), and later added viola. I also am careful with my diet and (as I get older) with stretching before I play. And I also was an ugly violinist who married a beautiful wife!

The prose is easy to read, although being topically- rather than temporally-organised the story jumps around a little in place and time. My edition includes an index, of mostly names of people and places.

Recommendation: Worth reading if you like biographies or music, especially if you play strings—but beware if your favourite instrument is the piano!

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