THE MENUHINS: A Family Odyssey by Lionel Manuhin Rolfe

THE MENUHINS: A Family Odyssey

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Rolfe is violinist Yehudi Menuhin's nephew--son of Yehudi's younger sister, pianist Yaltah--and the second half of this book pretty much duplicates the material in Menuhin's 1977 autobiography, though there's far more about Yaltah and And the viewpoint is certainly different. While Yehudi fashioned an idyllic portrait of his prodigy childhood with his loving, rather exotic family, nephew Lionel broods about the prodigy's overshadowing of his talented sisters, wonders if Yehudi is ""a man who never stopped being a child,"" and peers skeptically at Yehudi's beloved parents--Lionel's (still-living) grandparents. In fact, though there's some engaging gossip and insight in this family study (""All three of the Menuhins think their own marriages were made in heaven, and that the marriages of their siblings are disasters""), the book is most intriguing in its first half: an overview of five generations of mystical, musical Menuhins culminating in Yehudi's father--Lionel's nemesis--""philosophical dictator"" and rabid anti-Zionist Moshe. This European-Jewish roots odyssey is marred by some self-dramatizing excesses (""to be a Menuhin is no simple matter""), but the tracing of Hassidic ancestors--including the 18th-century founder of the Lubavitcher sect--does indeed reveal a ""pattern of arranged marriages, unhappy in-laws, genius and eccentricity,"" suggesting strong links between religious mysticism and musical prodigy. Rolfe might have produced a more distinctive book by concentrating on this phenomenon instead of moving on to his counter-version of Yehudi's life story. In any case, the result here is an unfocused, intermittently provocative ramble that doesn't always rise above strictly in-the-family interest.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1978
Publisher: Panjandrum/Aris