Conversations with Menuhin

Springing from an initial one-hour radio interview that extended itself over three years and a side range of musical and nonmusical matters, CONVERSATIONS WITH MENUHIN is a rich compendium of seasoned observations on music and musicians, music and life, and the human condition. The portrait that emerges of this gifted musician, conductor, educator, and fearless spiritual explorer is of a deeply enquiring, humane, yet tough-minded individual, an unembarrassed seeker after the true and good, whether in music, human relationships, or global politics.

Dubal confronts Menuhin with provocative questions and suggestive quotations (from Goethe to Glenn Gould) and elicits fresh and unbuttoned remarks on subjects as diverse as the secondary status of Mendelssohn (“People are never grateful for happiness, and Mendelssohn is often radiantly happy”) and the homicidal passions of the French Revolution (“the Guillotine was a turning point in the history of organized murder”). In the section on music and musicians, Menuhin credits Enesco for introducing him at age eleven to Balinese and African music, thereby opening musical and cultural doors (which later would produce memorable collaborations with sitar master Ravi Shankar and jazz great Stephane Grappelli) and teaching him the value of improvisation, expressive freedom, and spontaneity in classical playing.

Menuhin ranges beyond music to discuss evolution, vegetarianism, advertising, exercise, religion, and the military, but always comes back to a few central beliefs about the world: that the real villain in human affairs is a pernicious dualism which insists on seeing things in uninflected shades of black and white, that an air of infallibility, devoid of the saving grace of humility, is a blueprint for social (and musical) disaster. In the face of such fundamentalist ferocity he proposes a search for commonalities. While sharing some of Dubal’s pessimism about the decay of civilized values, the collapse of cities and the manipulative power of rock ’n’ roll, Menuhin remains cautiously optimistic about our ability to harmonize with all of life and to achieve a transcendence that is as much a part of everyday living as it is of musical creation.

Readers may not finish this book echoing Einstein’s works of the occasion of Menuhin’s 1929 Berlin debut (“Now I know that there is a God in Heaven”), though they are likely to emerge feeling they have been in the presence of an inspired and inspiring individual whose music-making comes from beholding the world with keen and compassionate eyes.