Yaltah Menuhin was born of Russian parents in San Francisco on 7 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 harmony and counterpoint tutor.
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, she 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 – 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, and played a pivotal role in the careers of numerous young composers, particularly during her stay in Los Angeles in the 1950s. 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 premieres 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, Society of Participating Artists, Music Library and World Record Club.
Yaltah’s tours took her from Alaska to New Zealand; from Texas to Switzerland. She appeared in duo recitals with 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 performed widely in recital, in double-concertos and 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 Carnival of the Animals for the BBC, with the Menuhins and Joel Ryce, and the telecast of the Mozart Triple Piano Concerto at Yehudi’s 50th birthday concert from the Royal Festival Hall, London. Her recorded favourites include the “family” recording of the Mozart Concerto (Hephzibah, Yaltah and Jeremy at the piano, with Yehudi conducting) and the four-hand piano duets of Mozart with Joel.
Highlights of Yaltah’s career include a performance for the Queen at Windsor Castle in 1973, when she played the Schubert Notturno 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 at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, when they played Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion. Her charity performances included evenings for the British Red Cross; the Organisation of Rehabilitation Training, Geneva; the Goulston Foundation, London; Pentonville Prison, London and for Friends of the Rose, Geneva.
Yaltah was co-founder in 1965 (with Stefan Askenase and Johannes 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 today – 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, as well as undertaking tours 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 the age of 13, 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 in 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 in Hampstead was a haven for 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 home on 9 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: the Chopin Preludes and the Debussy Preludes Book I.Read less