The Piano Journal

June/July 2001 edition

Yaltah Menuhin

The musical profession is saddened to have lost the last of the celebrated Menuhin siblings: Yehudi, Hephzibah and Yaltah.

Yaltah, the youngest of the three, was never encouraged to develop her great gifts, while Yehudi and Hephzibah were treated as phenomenal instrumentalists. A despotic mother made sure that the children were given every opportunity to study with the most outstanding pedagogues, first in the USA, then in Paris where Yehudi, aged 11, asked to study with Georges Enescu and Hephzibah, aged 6, was accepted by Marcel Ciampi, professor at the Paris Conservatoire, at Enescu's recommendation.

When Mrs. Menuhin arrived at professor Ciampi's he was most impressed with Hephzibah's playing of several solo pieces as well as accompanying Yehudi. The 4 year-old Yaltah wanted to play for him, but Monsieur Ciampi gently declined: "I am sorry but this is not a kindergarten".

While he was discussing future meetings, Yaltah ran to the piano and started to play Schumann's 'Kinderszenen'. The amazed Monsieur Ciampi exclaimed: "Madame, you must have a conservatoire in your womb!". Thus Yaltah also started her lessons with the master. In the interview in Piano Journal (no. 3 1982 'The Menuhins talk to Carola Grindea') Yaltah describes the young musicians' daily drill. "Whether you had fever or even surgery, the practising had to be done. There was no respite. Then there were the lessons with the various tutors. Every minute of the day was planned and rigidly adhered to."

Yaltah soon became quite an accomplished pianist in spite of having repeatedly been told that she was no good and would never be like her siblings. She was just 16 when she was married off, the poor girl agreeing to it in the hope of freeing herself from her tyrannical mother. The marriage did not last long as she wanted to be a musician. Her second marriage also ended because her husband would not allow her to perform.

It was Yehudi who greatly encouraged her and she appeared in solo recitals or playing with several outstanding instumentalists. Among them was a young pianist, Joel Ryce, with whom she formed a succesful piano duo. They married and, at last, Yaltah found not only happiness but also fulfilment as a musician. "For the first time in my life I could play as I wanted without being asked "Please, can you play softer ...". They settled in the UK where they started to teach at the newly-established Yehudi Menuhin School whil continuing their concert careers.

Occasionally Yaltah joined Hephzibah and Jeremy, performing the Bach or Mozart Two or Three Piano Concertos, with Yehudi conducting, but gradually she withdrew from playing in public, particularly when her husband decided to change careers and become a psychotherapist. After Joel's death in 1998 and then Yehudi's in 2000, she found solace in attending the local synagogue or creating delightful 'objets d'art' which she painted in vivid colours, which she then offered to some of her close friends. She became more and more withdrawn trying to cope with the void in her life until her own death in June this year.

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