Yehudi Menuhin and Eric Fenby standing together: one composer’s amanuensis working with a transformative violinist. Fenby enabled the blind Delius to write his wonderful late works, especially the radiant 3rd Sonata, and then passed the flame to two generations of performers, such as Menuhin, and perhaps more importantly, that most English of musicians, the extraordinary Ralph Holmes, who in turn conceived a new voice for Delius’s music, realised in his extraordinary 1984 recording of the Violin Concerto, recorded just before his tragic death.
The composer David Matthews notes:
‘ In July 1945 [Britten] visited Germany with violinist Yehudi Menuhin to give recitals to concentration camp visitors. They went to Belsen: Britten was so shocked that he never talked about the experience, except that at the end of his life he told Pears that it ‘had coloured everything he had written subsequently.’’
Menuhin was perhaps most important as a catalyst. Like Joachim, his influence stretched out across three quarters of a century. His recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto , as a teenager, with the composer conducting was the most powerful document, a new, youthful optimism reaching out to the previous century. He collaborated with Tippett, with Britten, with Rainier, and evoked the shared memory of the young Mozart.
However, it was in his sense that humanity was a harmonic diversity that he would probably like to be remembered. I worked with him at the end of his life, as an assistant conductor on a project of new music from Xenakis to Steve Reich. He approached the work with humility and a sense of discovery, of all things being made new. In the introduction to his charming My Favourite Music Stories, he wrote:
‘Music; be it Beethoven, Bartók, or the Beatles, brings us together in a sharing of sound and feeling far more than can words, while simultaneously it may reveal to us something deep within ourselves of which we had been unaware.’
Britten, David Matthews, Life and Times/Haus Publication, London, 2003, P.83
My Favourite Music Stories, Yehudi Menuhin, Lutterworth Press, London, 1977, P.14