Violinist Yehudi Menuhin, whose astonishing youthful virtuosity grew into one of the great musical talents of the 20th century, died Friday of heart failure in Berlin’s Martin Luther Hospital while battling pneumonia. He was 82 and had been sharing his love of music with audiences around the world for 75 years.
“He was a giant in this century, as a violinist, musician, personality within the musical world … and of course the most phenomenal child prodigy that ever existed, certainly in this century,” said violinist Itzhak Perlman.
Menuhin, who lived in London and in Gstaad, Switzerland, was born in New York of Russian Jewish parents who had emigrated from Israel. He was only 7 when he astonished a San Francisco audience with a brilliant debut violin performance. Four years later, he played at New York’s Carnegie Hall with the New York Symphony Orchestra. By 13, he had already won accolades in Berlin, Paris and London.
During World War II, Menuhin gave 500 concerts for U.S. and Allied troops and for Red Cross funds. Although known as a humanitarian and nurturer of young musicians, he offended many by performing for Germans in Berlin only two years after the war. He said he did so to further tolerance and “the brotherhood of man.” He was in Berlin at the time of his death to prepare for a concert March 16.
He toured India at the invitation of the government and began to bring Indian music and musicians to the West. Open to many kinds of music, he was an admirer of the early Beatles, played jazz with Stephane Grappelli and performed with Ravi Shankar.
Menuhin married twice. His first wife was Nola Nicholas, daughter of an Australian industrialist, whom he married in 1938. They had a son and daughter. After a 1947 divorce, Menuhin married Diana Gould, a British ballerina and actress with whom he had two sons. His second wife and children survive him.