by Jeremy Menuhin
confronted with a life as rich and varied as Yaltah's, it is difficult
to know where to begin.
It would be an understatement to say that the first years of Yaltah's
life had been difficult. Her arrival was not trumpeted from the rooftops,
and she was never celebrated as the new messiah or even as his accompanist,
the role that befell Hephzibah. But Yehudi, and for that matter his
brother-in-law Louis Kentner, both maintained that Yaltah may have been
the most gifted of the three Menuhin children.
Yaltah's lifelong passion was music, although there were long periods
during which she did not play in public. Despite his gifts Joel, Yaltah's
adored husband and companion, found it, at a certain point, impossible
to continue as a pianist, a destiny most musicians would find unimaginable.
During the long and demanding period of his training as a Jungian analyst,
Yaltah gave him her unmitigated support. Joel did not only cease to
perform, he ceased to play the piano altogether. Apart from his dedication
to his work, it was Yaltah's courage and faith that enabled him to find
a new life. For Joel, Yaltah carried the spirit of creative inspiration,
and he welcomed her presence in all forms. He may even have considered
his own creativity to be linked to hers.
I only got to know Yaltah better towards the end of Joel's life. During
the final weeks she decided to bring a mattress down to UCH, so as to
be separated as little as possible from him. Not requiring any creature
comforts, she simply occupied a small corner of Joel's small room. One
day she asked me if I would bring her a lamp so that she could read
when Joel was asleep: it was the only request I remember her making.
A few weeks later, as Joel lay sleeping, there seemed to be a change
in the atmosphere. I looked at his face but only saw an absence: he
had departed. Yaltah's strength was immediately apparent: despite her
devastation, she mourned quietly, not wishing even then to draw attention
to herself. This was not a sign of suppression, but the product of a
At some stage in her life Yaltah developed a particular love for the
colour blue. Perhaps blue was her colour from the very beginning. In
any case she used it, along with gold, to paint her icons, Madonnas
and collages. Shortly before he died, Joel bought Yaltah a cabinet in
which to exhibit her collection of blue glass. She had picked up pieces
over many years, and they became a link between the two of them. She
once said of her Madonnas that they represented the good mother. I believe
she would alter them and paint over them as her perception changed.
When she went shopping last Friday, apart from the six bags of food
intended for future guests, she also acquired some wood panels for her
Despite the enormous loss she endured when Joel died - and they had
been together for 38 years - there was no denying the late flowering
that subsequently took place. Yaltah rediscovered the desire to play
for others, and undertook hugely challenging programmes of piano solo
and chamber music. Next week she should have played Mozart's Concerto
K.488 in Hanover. She and I also decided to read Mozart and Beethoven
quartets at the piano, some as four-hand transcriptions, and others
as they appeared in the original form. When Yaltah announced only a
few months ago that her next programme would probably consist of the
Chopin Preludes and the Debussy Preludes Book 1, neither of which works
she had performed in decades, I was flabbergasted. In addition to this,
she continued to produce her collages, wrote poems and letters, and
last but not least entertained a steady stream of visitors. It was impossible
to visit Yaltah without being offered at least three courses, no matter
what time of day it was, or whether or not one might have just had lunch.
In my experience it was a lot more difficult to offer her food, although
just two weeks ago we had a reunion with her nephews Kron and Michael
and their wives, and on that occasion I was able to convince her to
try a little of my cooking.
She also responded positively to my suggestion that she play at least
a part of the programme she had prepared for Orwell Park. Yaltah then
chose to play half the Chopin Preludes, very beautifully and devoid
of frills, reminding us how Music can unite.
Soon after, Yaltah went to Orwell Park, where she was an honorary patron,
and played her Chopin-Debussy programme. A week ago, on Friday, she
rang up to say that it had gone very well, and that she had even thrown
in, at assembly the next day, the Chopin Nocturne in C minor! It is
quite possible that this colossal effort might have been too much for
her heart. In any case it was what she wanted, even if we, her friends,
would have wished her to live on.
A number of people who knew Yaltah have mentioned the matchless experience
of walking down the road with her. No sooner had the first few yards
slipped by, than some total, or almost total, stranger would approach
Yaltah and address her. If in need, he or she would be invited home,
and might even end up staying for a while, or until they had recovered
from whatever was afflicting them. Recently Yaltah, on the way to Finchley
Road, was hailed by a young woman from a fashion magazine, intent on
transforming her into an icon. Apparently her individual attire was
just the thing that would spark off a clothing revolution.
We have lost a unique soul, and also a being that connected us to a
world of music, poetry and nature.