“Yehudi Menuhin: Violin of the Century,” is an embarrassment of riches,
documenting the life and career of this violinist and conductor. Filmed in
1994 for Ideale Audience and re-released on DVD in 2005, this Bruno
Monsaingeon film provides an in-depth look at Menuhin’s thoughts and
feelings about music and playing the violin.
Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) willingly collaborated with Monsaingeon to
bring this project to life, which is copiously illustrated with archival
footage from throughout Menuhin’s entire career. By relating to his
subject as “one concert violinist to another,” Bruno Monsaingeon would
seem to be the right person to make this film, having also made numerous
films of other great violinists, in the past.
This film proceeds chronologically, including archival childhood
footage and a collaboration with Edward Elgar (1857-1934), resulting in a
Menuhin performance of Elgar’s “Violin Concerto,” while a 16-year old
prodigy. During World War II, Menuhin constantly toured different
countries, giving performances for the Allied forces. The film also documents
his collaboration with Bela Bartok (1881-1945), thereby bringing about
Bartok’s final “Sonata for Solo Violin,” which was written in 1943 and
commissioned by Menuhin.
Romanian violinist, composer and pianist, George Enescu (1881-1955),
is prominently featured, as Yehudi Menuhin studied with him during his
formative years. Due to beginning his career as a child prodigy, Menuhin had
opportunities to work and collaborate with more musicians than just
about anyone else I can recall.
A fair share of footage was also devoted to Menuhin’s younger sister,
Hephzibah (1920-1981) . She was a very accomplished pianist, and
served as her brother’s long-time accompanist, thereby sacrificing her
own solo career aspirations. Hephzibah later admitted her own lack of
fulfillment as an artist, which was a great tragedy, and her story is told
in An Exacting Heart: The Story of Hephzibah Menuhin (Kent 2008).
As a musician and a “man of the world,” Yehudi Menuhin managed to work
with many famous musicians outside of the Western Classical Music
mainstream, including Stephane Grappelli, Duke Ellington and Ravi Shankar.
Later, as Lord Menuhin, he discussed his interesting views of politics
and world peace, particularly those regarding the State of Israel.
This film was completed near the end of Yehudi Menuhin’s life and provides
a portrait of the man. However, a discussion of his alleged “technical problems”
that began to manifest after his “wunderkind period,” would have been
most informative. These problems have long been a conversation topic among
the cognoscenti, and would have made this film truly complete. I believe that
Bruno Monsaingeon could have tactfully broached these issues. Instead, he
left it to Menuhin to discuss his own technical difficulties, which at a certain
stage in his career, involved attaining a satisfactory vibrato. For his own
reasons, Bruno Monsaingeon has refrained from criticism, choosing to
produce a “glowing” portrait of Menuhin, and as such, doing a great job.
Bonus features on this DVD include three performances in color by Yehudi
Menuhin from 1972. They include “Abodah” by Ernest Bloch (1880-1959),
“Kaddish,” by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), and the “Fuga” from Bartok’s
“Sonata for Solo Violin.” When you include the bonus features, the running
time of this highly recommended DVD is about 130 minutes.