Yaltah Menuhin was born of Russian parents in San Francisco on 7th October
1921, the youngest of three extraordinarily musical children. Yaltah
was named after her mother's hometown in Crimea. At the age of
three, she was already part of the rigorous regime imposed on her siblings: the family employed tutors for the children, and Yaltah had her first piano lessons from the wife of the tutor in harmony and counterpoint.
She was taken to Paris at the age of four when her brother, Yehudi and sister, Hephzibah went to study there. Marcel
Ciampi, engaged to teach Hephzibah, initially refused to entertain the notion
of teaching Yaltah at such a young age; however, Yaltah so impressed him with
her spontaneous rendition of Schumann's Kinderszenen, that he agreed to take
her on as well. Her taking piano lessons did not mean that her parents considered
her - or for that matter, Hephzibah - to be capable of pursuing a career in
music: Yaltah's mother in particular was firmly opposed to the idea that her
daughters would follow in Yehudi's footsteps. Apart from Ciampi, she studied
with Rudolf Serkin in Basel, Armando Silvestri in Rome and Carl Friedberg
in New York.
One of Yaltah's earliest orchestral appearances was with Pierre Monteux and
the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, playing Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto.
Over the years Yaltah performed a wide repertoire. She played a pivotal role
in the careers of numerous young composers, particularly during her stay in
Los Angeles in the 1950's. She had a great love of chamber music and performed
the sonata literature of the violin, viola and 'cello, as well as works for
larger groups. Yaltah gave many first performances of works by Eric Zeisl,
George Antheil, Ernst Krenek, Frank Martin, Louis Gruenberg, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
and Walter Piston. She recorded for Everest, EMI, Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft,
SPA, Music Library and EMI-World Record Club.
Yaltah's tours took her from Alaska to New Zealand; from Texas to Switzerland.
She appeared in duo recitals with the 'cellists Gabor Rejto, George Neikrug,
Guy Fallot and Felix Schmidt; violinist Israel Baker; violists Michael Mann
and Paul Doktor, and with Joel Ryce in duo-piano with whom she appeared widely
in recital, in double-concerto's and in television specials in Paris, London
and New York. The duo Menuhin/Ryce won the coveted Harriet Cohen International
Music Award in 1962.
Yaltah and Joel were blissfully married for almost forty
years. British audiences may recall the "Carnaval of the Animals" for the
BBC, with the Menuhins and Joel Ryce, and the telecast of the Mozart Triple
Concerto at Yehudi's 50th birthday concert from the Royal Festival Hall, London.
Her recorded favourites include the "family" recording of the Mozart Triple
Piano Concerto (Yaltah, Hephzibah and Jeremy at the piano, with Yehudi conducting)
and the four-hand piano duets of Mozart with Joel.
The highlights of Yaltah's career include a performance for the Queen at Windsor
Castle in 1973, when she played the Schubert Nocturno with Yehudi and Ross
Pople; the Mozart Double Piano Concerto with Hephzibah for the Willa Cather Centenary Celebrations in America, and a recital with Joel Ryce at Queen Elizabeth
Hall, London, when they played Bartók's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion.
Her charity performances included evenings for the British Red Cross; the
Organisation of Rehabilitation Training (ORT), Geneva; the Goulston Foundation,
London; Pentonville Prison and for Friends of the Rose, Geneva.
Yaltah was a co-founder in 1965 (with Stefan Askenase and Johannis Wasmuth)
and director of "Arts and Music", an international non-profit social project
for the benefit of young artists and the arts in general. Marcel Marceau and
Oskar Kokoschka were among its strongest supporters. "Arts and Music" - still
active to this day - was housed in a beautiful old railway station at Rolandseck,
near Bonn. She took a very keen interest in youth orchestras and played with
the Brighton Youth Orchestra, also undertaking tours in Wales with Aelodau'r
Gerddorfa, the all-Wales Youth Orchestra.
A gifted linguist, Yaltah wrote a poem each day of the year in one of six
languages. At 13 years of age an anthology of her poetry, entitled Malgré l'Espace, was published privately. The anthology is currently held by
the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas.
There can be no doubt that Yaltah lived under the shadow of her more famous
brother and sister; in spite of the fact that many, Yehudi included, considered
her to be the most talented of the three Menuhins, she never quite managed
to match the careers Yehudi and Hephzibah had. This did not lead to bitterness
on Yaltah's part; she completely and unequivocally worshipped her siblings,
and remained devoted to - even slightly in awe of - them for all her life.
Much like her brother, Yaltah was a wonderful facilitator, effortlessly and
guilelessly bringing together people from all walks of life, musically and
in friendship. Yaltah was surrounded by people from all walks of life, young
and old, and her home was a haven to everybody. To quote Yehudi: "Yaltah is
a ministering angel, handing out remedies, crutches, comfort to the ailing
who come to her door, reaping the rewards in kindness and gratitude that life
has otherwise denied her.".
Yaltah died at her home in London on 9th June, 2001; beautiful, spirited and
independent to the very end, just a few days after giving her final recital
at the Orwell Park School, Suffolk, of which she was an honorary patron and
where she was a regular and much-loved guest. Her swansong proved to be the Chopin Preludes
and the Debussy Preludes Book I.
Yaltah's last letter to us, written on the train from London to Suffolk, on
her way to this concert, makes for grateful yet painful reading [the week before, we had lovingly and painstakingly transferred some of Yaltah and Joel's own
recordings, which she had not been able to listen to for many years, from
LP to CD]:
" ... thank you for your magical transformation of long-unplayed music (.....);
you have restored so much happiness to this ancient world of mine (.....);
it is another lease on life ....."