Music, the world-famous violinist who first dazzled audiences as a child and who later became a statesman in promoting music as a path to international understanding, died March 12 in a Berlin hospital after a heart attack. He was 82.
Mr. Menuhin followed up success as a prodigy with a career of unusual range and duration. When he was at his best, his playing was distinguished for its sweetness, purity and spiritual intensity.
“His style of playing, particularly in his early years, was a stunning patrician elegance with a very natural musical line,” said fellow violinist Isaac Stern, calling Mr. Menuhin “a major figure in this century.”
The violinist began in an era that celebrated Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz and remained an active performer and conductor in the age of Itzhak Perlman and Anne-Sophie Mutter. He was in Berlin this week to appear with the Warsaw Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Menuhin, a native of New York and a citizen of Britain since the 1980s, recorded prolificly, beginning in 1928 when he was 12 and continuing until a few months before his death — the longest recording career in history.
He was an ardent advocate of the contemporary music of his time and was among the first violinists to play the Alban Berg concerto. He also played works by Arnold Schoenberg, although he had little taste for the style.
Bela Bartok wrote his Sonata for Solo Violin for Mr. Menuhin, and William Walton fashioned a Sonata for Violin and Piano for Mr. Menuhin and his brother-in-law Louis Kentner. The violinist was was an early and eloquent Western advocate of Eastern music and often played with sitarist Ravi Shankar.
Mr. Menuhin’s first appearance was at age 7, with the San Francisco Symphony. Three years later, after a debut at Carnegie Hall, critics began calling him one of the greatest child prodigies since Mozart.
He not only created a sensation but also launched a fad for violin studies across the country.
“Now I know there is a God in heaven!” the famous physicist and amateur violinist Albert Einstein told the boy after hearing him in 1929.
Mr. Menuhin attributed his success to his Russian-born parents, Hebrew teachers who met in Palestine. The Menuhins devoted themselves to nurturing their son’s playing. To a lesser degree, they also encouraged their two daughters, Hephzibah and Yaltah, pianists who sometimes accompanied their brother in concert.
From the beginning, the young violinist paid little heed to technical training. He played naturally and was able to learn large works with ease at a very early age. “I played the violin without being prepared for violin playing,” he later recalled, with some regret.
The Menuhins left San Francisco after Mr. Menuhin’s fame spread. They lived a nomadic life for a while, moving from hotel to hotel, to accommodate his concert schedule.
He could command a fee for a single performance large enough to support the whole family for more than year, and his parents took advantage of this to let their children learn about other countries.
Mr. Menuhin’s natural ability was both his genius and his impediment. “Because the young Menuhin had anticipated so early and so much of what nature had given him, I foresaw that he would have great difficulties,” his older colleague Kreisler once said.
Indeed, when the young man met the legendary violin virtuoso Eugene Ysaye in 1928, he played the Edouard Lalo “Symphonie Espagnole” flawlessly. But when the master asked him for a scale, Mr. Menuhin later remembered that he “groped all over the fingerboard like a blind mouse.”
In 1935, the young violinist embarked upon a world tour during which he visited 13 countries and 73 cities, and which left him feeling “tired, indifferent and sad.”
He retired for a year, resuming his career during World War II to perform more than 500 concerts for American and Allied troops.
He was the first international artist to play in Germany after the war. He said he did this to further tolerance and “the brotherhood of man,” foreshadowing his later more intense commitment to making music and music education a bridge to understanding and world peace.
He played charity concerts in the Arab world after the Six-Day War, for instance, and began a foundation to help promote live performances for children in many countries.
In the period after World War II, he was divorced from his first wife, Australian heiress Lola Nichols, with whom he had two children.
He then married the British ballerina Diana Gould, a formidable, strong-minded woman who was credited with helping him through a period of depression and taking over management of his career. She was said to have filled the role long filled by his indomitable mother.
In the postwar period, his playing began what some critics regarded as a sharp decline. He had never learned the mechanics of the instrument and was now forced to rebuild his technical perception of the violin. He had to consciously master what had always been done unconsciously.
While some fans believed that he rebounded and was at the height of his musical powers in the early 1950s, some listeners contend that he never fully recovered from his musical malaise.
The violinist made no secret of the fact that he had been forced to rethink the whole basis of his approach to violin technique. Still, if some of his initial flash and energy was lost, many found his later work imbued with greater nobility and depth.
In 1952, Mr. Menuhin visited India, where he discovered yoga and began his association with Indian music. In 1958, he released his first record as a conductor, a rendition of Bach’s “Brandenburg” concertos, on which he also played violin.
From this time, conducting became a second career. Although his gentle nonauthoritarian manner may sometimes have hampered his effectiveness, Mr. Menuhin was often able to build a moving performance through inspiration. He was associated with several orchestras, including the Royal Philharmonic, English String Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic and Philharmonia Hungarica.
His recordings include most of the standard violin repertory, some with jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, and a series of “East meets West” albums with Shankar.
He was a close friend of the pianist Glenn Gould, who wrote an article about Menuhin and made a television film with him. Mr. Menuhin published several books, including an autobiography, “Unfinished Journey,” and appeared regularly on television, for which he assembled a series, “The Music of Man.”
Mr. Menuhin took an active interest in the education of young artists and started an academy in Switzerland and a school for young musicians in Stoke d’Abernon, a few miles outside London, the city that was his home for the last 40 years.
The school produced several young musicians, including violinist Nigel Kennedy, who soon found fame. However, it was designed not as a prodigy factory, but as a place where a musical gift could be nurtured and developed at the student’s own pace.
“We must guide not only fingers but minds and hearts, for music is a way of being,” Mr. Menuhin said.
Mr. Menuhin was recognized internationally for his peace work. The list of organizations he helped found or helped as a patron filled 15 pages.
He was named an ambassador of goodwill to UNESCO in 1992. Queen Elizabeth bestowed a knighthood on him in 1965, and he became a lord in 1993.