A sensitive treatment of one of the best-loved musicians of a generation.
Burton (Leonard Bernstein, 1994) offers a readable, comprehensive examination of Menuhin’s path from child prodigy to international musical diplomat, drawing on the wealth of extant biographical material, press clippings, and statements issued by the artist himself to paint a dispassionate portrait of one of the most multifaceted and accomplished public figures of his century. Here, Menuhin is portrayed first as a music-loving, socially conscious child controlled by a manipulative mother and an ambitious father, and later as a philanthropic polymath, a lover of yoga and Indian music, a stubborn egalitarian as comfortable taking on the politics of the New York Philharmonic as the Soviet government. Still later he appearsas an impresario, conductor, the founder of a school, and a UNESCO diplomat. Burton’s rendering of Menuhin is bright, insightful, and at times enchantingly funny—as when the three Menuhin children play to a disbelieving would-be piano coach, who remarks in wonder, “Madame Menuhin’s womb is a veritable conservatoire.” He also demonstrates a deep respect for his subject, honoring what he describes as Menuhin’s good-natured acceptance of criticism by citing almost as many negative reviews of his work as positive, though one must assume that in actual fact the latter far outweighed the former. The only significant shortcoming of this otherwise delightful work is the absence of detail with regard to Menuhin’s personal relationships. There is little discussion of his four children or his younger sister, and as far as Menuhin’s two marriages are concerned, Burton supplies only the roughest of sketches. Nevertheless, the absence leaves the reader wanting to know more about Menuhin, not less. With each chapter, Burton does his readers a great service by providing recommendations for recordings to augment the reading experience.
A biography at once serious and entertaining, sensitive and critical: an unfailing joy to read.