Second trip to London

As Heidi and I drove back from London on Tuesday we agreed how much we were enjoying this project, and how quickly we find ourselves nearing the final phase of creating the installation at Dartington! That morning we had arrived at the Royal Academy of Music, and RAM archivist Andrew Neilsen invited us into his small third floor office packed with boxes, folders and instruments from the Foyle Menuhin Archive. After several hours we had poured through hundreds of items.

MenVln case beads2

There were incredible photographs of Bath concerts with Britten and Tippett, post-war trips to Berlin, mind-boggling yoga poses, portraits of his wife Diana in flowing dresses, holding glasses of champagne. There were a huge range of letters, from charming, intimate notes, letters from military officers, fan mail from 8 year olds preferring Menuhin to David Cassidy, detailed letters from Bartók suggesting changes to the violin sonata. In all of these we were struck by the sense of how warmly Menuhin was thought of by so many different people across the world; how at ease he made people feel.

Foraging through Menuhin’s violin case was an extraordinary thrill. Each compartment was packed with fascinating objects, speaking of the ritual of performance, the memories and connections with places he had played. Religious beads, Chinese badges and metal crosses sat alongside repair tools, hair combs and Christian Dior glasses. A 1992 “Sound Therapy” cassette tape nestled amongst a bundle of silk scarves.MenVln Case tape

When we opened Menuhin’s score of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas, each page was annotated by so many pencil marks that the music was almost completely covered in grey. Every bar thick with bow markings, slurring, corrections to the accidentals, and instructions like “oily!” “sing it!” and “Work Slowly”.

The Bartók sonata written for Menuhin was similarly covered in Menuhin’s pencil hieroglyphs, made even more striking by the fact that the original ink notation had almost completely faded on some pages, leaving only the pencil marks swirling around the fading staves.

Richard Barnard