Portrait of a Prodigy
IN APRIL 1929, a twelve-year-old violinist made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic playing three concerti-Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms-accompanied by Bruno Walter. At the end of the concert the already immortal Albert Einstein rushed to the artists’ room via the stage, embraced the boy, and cried: “Now I know there is a God in heaven!”
The boy was Yehudi Menuhin, and this Berlin performance was by no means his first sensation. Seventeen months before, he had played the Beethoven concerto in New York with Fritz Busch and the New York Symphony. After the concert, the New York Times critic, Olin Downes, who had wanted to attend a prizefight at Madison Square Garden that night rather than hear a violin prodigy, found himself drafting a review that in its uncontrolled excitement and enthusiasm seemed too strong to be deserved by any child; the review he finally wrote began with restrained comments about Menuhin’s “exceptional musical intelligence and sensitivity,” his conveying “very beautifully the poetry of the slow movement,” his “refreshing taste and simplicity” in the finale.
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