My brother Yehudi

Much has been written about Yehudi ever since he started playing in public at a remarkably young age. In some of these articles about him I have found much to remind me of him, but fortunately the inner world in which such a genius dwells and develops can never be invaded. Outer truth can only partially represent him. He will always remain far beyond any extracts of truth however carefully rendered. What comes to the creative mind of an artist like Yehudi can be transformed in so many ways. He feeds on air and water like a giant tree; there is a root sturdiness about him which allows gentle breezes to play in his lofty branches.

Yehudi’s greatest happiness is making music, revealing the life between the lines and the notes. His enthusiasm can carry everyone along. But it is not an ordinary enthusiasm. His face alone betrays the intensity; the eyes are remarkably deep and warm and the seriousness and concentration he has had since his early years shines through.

As a child he stood alone and was protected by this independence of self, in the midst of any situation. His graciousness drew people of all kinds to him, not necessarily in an exchange of words, but through his immediate presence. He stands now, as then, for harmony. I believe because he is so utterly good, all these spiritual forces come through in his playing and being.

Having travelled much together in our youth as a family, I had a chance to watch and admire his behaviour; his example was the highest I could ever hope to find. This is what made it hard for me to accept the often contrary traits of conceit and vanity one has come to excuse in other well-known artists. I remember understanding silently the phenomenon of this human being, and I never tried to put it into words because it seemed so precious.

The strength of purpose that is Yehudi’s overcomes many obstacles. He is never one to talk about himself; he seems to have expressed so much of what he is in constructive ways that that need is hardly in him. This is such a common failing in most of us still searching for our true self. He can however speak eloquently to groups when it concerns something vital and important. With those nearest him he is often simple and gay, like a young boy and truly disarming.

From him come some of my happiest childhood memories; recalling his preparation during the summer months of works for the fall repertoire, hearing him rehearsing with my sister Hephzibah for their sonata recitals, and playing chamber music with older artists like Pierre Monteux (a fine violinist, besides being a great conductor), Bruno Walter, as pianist, and Piatigorsky and Horowitz. These were joys I later could not so easily enjoy, since our lives have often been separated by work in opposite parts of the world.

He has introduced an extraordinary number of contemporary works during his career. One day in New York, in spite of a long chain of many other appointments he had, I brought him a Mozart piano concerto I was suddenly to play with very little time in which to prepare it. He sang the orchestral part and revealed at once many of the intricacies of this beautiful work, although he had never seen it before. It was an unforgettable experience because he brought it to life so magically. He himself was so delighted with the new work that he was refreshed by having given it so much of his attention. This capacity to renew himself is one of the secrets of his enormous capacity for work and contact with people.

My brother’s interest in young people is compelling and his loyalty to older colleagues unshakable. This keeps the past and the future solidly related to the present. For him all of life is a wonderful practice towards daily improvement and self-control; his interest in Yoga is to achieve balance and harmony physically and therefore spiritually. I have rarely met a human being who thinks in so few abstractions and applies his values so fully through his manifold activities.

He returns to nature whenever possible, feeling the goodness and exhilaration of being alive. His public appearance is one of quiet reverence and meditation. I think he admires and loves serenity in both men and women yet he believes in their equal ability to be totally dedicated to high goals. His humour is genuine and enchanting, no matter how lofty the task.

As a boy he was very moved by Elizabeth Rethberg’s singing and admired her freedom and warmth. He understood Enescu’s universality and Bartok’s homesickness; Bloch’s passionate nature and Toscanini’s protest against fascism in his native land. Many great artists have inspired Yehudi’s life, but he has respect for all people and can bring them closer.

During the Second World War he travelled untiringly to play for the troops, under very trying circumstances. When I toured in Alaska only three years ago people still remembered his concerts in army tents, in ice cold weather, in those heart-breaking times. His music helped people to accept their share of hardships and continue to keep faith. There were no halls, no proper acoustics, no comforts; he played to men who never knew music as played in cities; he expressed to them directly the brotherhood they needed. He returned exhausted and discouraged from some of these experiences, but what he meant to others as a messenger of peace and humanity has not been forgotten.

I have been very fortunate indeed to be one of Yehudi’s sisters; even from this closeness it will never be possible to comprehend the extent of his gifts. It must be out of the loneliness of such unique greatness that comes the deep compassion he expresses for mankind.

Originally published in the first edition of the Music Journal, October 1966 | Reprinted by kind permission of the Schools Music Association