Hephzibah Menuhin 1920-1981
Hephzibah Menuhin was born on 20 May 1920 in San Francisco.
She began her piano studies at the age of four and gave her first recital in San Francisco in 1928 when she was eight.
For eight years she moved between France, Switzerland and Italy, studying with Rudolf Serkin in Basel and Marcel Ciampi in Paris.
In a tribute to his sister, Yehudi Menuhin wrote: ‘So blessed by the Gods was she from the very
start of her life that they named her “Hephzibah”, which means “the one awaited with joy, the bringer of life,” for there was already a radiance about her that I can recall on the day my parents and I, the four-year-old brother, welcomed her with delight into the house. And that glow never left me. She was one of those rare and chosen human beings for whom to love meant quite simply to serve. And in her light, to serve was to feel with and for others with such closeness of comprehension that she could share deepest pain, their profoundest fears, with an instinct and an intuition all her own.’
Hephzibah was the second of the three remarkable Menuhin siblings. All were musicians – the eldest, Yehudi, became the greatest violinist of his time, Hephzibah was a celebrated pianist, and the youngest, Yaltah, was also a noted pianist.
Hephzibah Menuhin was born on 20 May 1920 in San Francisco, where her parents moved after the birth of Yehudi in New York in 1916. In spite of the idyllic family life their publicity depicted, the children’s upbringing was far from happy. The father, Moshe, was a canny entrepreneur and their mother, Marutha, was manipulative and cold.
The family’s constant touring denied the children any semblance of a normal upbringing and, later, it was Marutha who authorised her children’s marriages.
The children had little formal schooling. Yehudi recalled that his sister spent only five days at a San Francisco school, where she was classed as educationally backward. Her parents took her home and taught her to read and write fluently in a year. She never went to school again.
Like her brother, Hephzibah showed early musical brilliance. She began her piano studies at the age of four and gave her first recital in San Francisco in 1928 when she was eight.
For eight years she moved between France, Switzerland and Italy, studying with Rudolf Serkin in Basel and Marcel Ciampi in Paris. She and Yehudi played together for family gatherings, and in 1933 they made their first recording – the Mozart Sonata in A, K.526; it won the coveted Candid Prize as best disc of the year. Their public debut came on 13 October 1934, at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Yehudi claimed that their closeness as children ‘matured into music and revealed that we had a Siamese soul.’ They performed in New York’s Town Hall and Queen’s Hall in London, and Hephzibah gave solo recitals in most of the major cities of Europe and America.
Photograph courtesy State Library of Queensland
Peter Burch: ‘Fruits of a lifetime’s music making’, in The Australian, 30 October 1979
Gloria Frydman: What a Life – A Biography of Paul Morawetz, Wakefield Press, 1995
Moshe Menuhin: The Menuhin Saga, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1984,
Yehudi Menuhin: Unfinished Journey, Futura, 1978