Introduction to Book One

          A nineteen-year-old American violinist began his first tour of Australia in April 1935. Mirroring scenes that had already become familiar to audiences in America and in Europe, Yehudi Menuhin's performances provoked outbursts of adulation. Blessed with good looks and a prodigious musical talent, he was mobbed and feted like a movie star.

          One of the most ardent fans was a Melbourne teenager, Nola Nicholas. She and her elder brother Lindsay attended several Menuhin concerts. On these occasions, they may have glimpsed Yehudi's parents, Moshe and Marutha Menuhin, and his two sisters, Hephzibah and Yaltah. As his son's manager, Moshe would have been busy fielding questions from the press and making plans to meet unprecedented demand for tickets by staging extra performances. Marutha's role was to keep watch backstage for anyone intending to take advantage of Yehudi's trusting nature and to whisk her three youngsters home to supper and to bed. Hephzibah, fourteen at the time, and Yaltah, twelve, were enjoying newly-granted parental dispensations during this tour; they had taken to escorting their brother through the crowds that pressed forward after each performance. Watching these scenes, Lindsay and Nola could hardly have anticipated a chain of events that would end three years later in their becoming themselves part of the Menuhin entourage.

          During his third visit to Australia, Yehudi performed in Sydney Town Hall on 16 June 1951. He was accompanied on the piano by Hephzibah. They were joined for part of the programme by string players drawn from the Musica Viva Society. Aged eight, I was a reluctant member of the audience; my idea of a productive Saturday involved outdoor games for which plans had already been laid - plans that were interrupted when my uncle telephoned to propose that his youngest nephew should join him to hear a recital.  I had no idea what this entailed but was certain that it would be a waste of a sunny day. Unfeeling brothers taunted me about having to forego a backyard cricket match. Two hours later, and with frustration barely concealed, I was sitting next to Uncle Douglas in the Town Hall. What, I thought to myself, had I done to deserve this supposed treat? Uncle disrupted visions of the forgone cricket by urging me to read about the artists soon to appear. Frustration now turned to fascination.

          The programme notes for the recital revealed the early achievements of both Yehudi and Hephzibah that seemed improbable. By the time he was eight - my age! - Yehudi was already a seasoned performer. I was dumbfounded, and tried to imagine what it must have been like for him to perform, not for a mere 2000 as in the Town Hall, but for an audience of 11,000 as he was reported to have done in San Francisco in 1926. Mention of his ability to speak six languages made my head spin. Hephzibah, even more adept at languages than her brother, had made her début in 1928 also as an eight-year-old. But noting that brother and sister Menuhin had had the good fortune to marry brother and sister Nicholas and that Hephzibah was now living on a sheep station in the state of Victoria, I reasoned that the rarefied Menuhins had come down to earth and now belonged to us ordinary Australians.

          In hindsight, the programme was distinguished for what it had not told its readers: that during World War II, Yehudi and Nola became estranged, Yehudi abandoning his wife and two children for long periods while attempting to reconcile the demands of his concert career with a desire to play for American and Allied troops and causes; that by 1951 Hephzibah had been involved in two affairs that had scandalised Melbourne society  and she was then on the verge of walking away from her two young boys and the marriage to Lindsay; that, following a determined quest to have Yehudi divorce Nola and marry her, Diana Menuhin was claiming to have sacrificed her own career in order to save his; and that Yaltah, a rejected child, had failed to find happiness in a first marriage that had lasted just six weeks.

          Moments before the artists appeared on the Town Hall stage, Diana would have made her progress into the body of the hall. Wherever her husband was appearing, she aimed to be the last person to take her seat, not in the front row but midway back in the stalls, her costume designed to attract attention, her bearing evidence of a former life as a ballerina. That afternoon in Sydney I did not register Diana's arrival, nor could have then anticipated that I was destined to escort her on hundreds of such "entrances" in concert halls around the world.

           I cannot recall much about the music played in the recital -  Schubert's String Quintet in C, Enesco's Third Violin Sonata, and the Australian première of the Chausson Concerto for violin and piano quintet -  but remember distinctly the impression Hephzibah and Yehudi gave of enjoying themselves. Approving glances between them were exchanges I was to witness at close quarters years later while sitting beside Hephzibah as page turner on her final tour of America in 1980 during the months before she succumbed finally to cancer.

           Responsibility for my association with the Menuhin family rests with the South African-born author, Christopher Hope, who was writer-in-residence during 1976 at Gordonstoun School in northern Scotland where I was then teaching. Discovering a common interest in the Menuhins - Christopher's wife had recently become Yehudi's principal secretary - it was suggested that I spend part of the forthcoming summer holidays in Switzerland at the Gstaad Festival. It was here that I became hitched to the Menuhin caravan after Yehudi proposed that I manage his latest project - importing American electric cars into Britain.

          Following Yehudi's death in 1999, I began writing about experiences and observations during my twenty-two years with the Menuhins. It became evident early on that the characters central to the story could not be portrayed adequately in terms of the last quarter of their lives alone; what began as a string of anecdotes grew over the next ten years into a two-volume reconsideration of the Menuhin odyssey. The task has been akin to starting afresh on a complex jigsaw puzzle; errant pieces have been placed in their proper contexts and fresh images have been provided where research has unearthed new material. 

          Yehudi and Diana both penned autobiographies. Yehudi published Unfinished Journey in 1976. Although this was updated in 1996 and reprinted as a paperback in 2001, errors of fact remained uncorrected. The memoir is therefore often unreliable. Diana compiled two volumes of her story - Fiddler's Moll (1984) and A Glimpse of Olympus (1996). She warned readers that what she wrote was totally subjective; at least in this she was being truthful. Since her death in 2003, witnesses to events she described have come forward making it possible to reassess the validity of her most outlandish claims.

          The Menuhin odyssey was governed by an omnipresent schedule. At times when this was at its most pressing and chaotic, Diana declared it was impossible to parody life with Yehudi - it was one long parody in itself. There were times when all of those employed by this remarkable pair could not but agree.


Philip Bailey, August 2008