Yehudi Menuhin

Léonie Sonning Music prize 1972

The American violinist Yehudi Menuhin received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 60,000 Danish kroner at a concert on 12 May 1972 at the Tivoli Concert Hall. The first half of the concert and the prize ceremony was broadcast live on the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s P2 radio channel.



The prize was presented by Børge Friis, the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation’s chairman.

The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 60,000 Danish kroner is hereby awarded to Yehudi Menuhin, in recognition of his personal efforts and uncompromising striving in the service of live music and humanity. Yehudi Menuhin’s work as a violinist, musical aesthete and educator will stand as an example of the highest artistic and human ideals.

After the presentation, Yehudi Menuhin said some words of his own and thanked Børge Friis for his speech:‘I was deeply moved by your words and what they expressed about all our hopes and I am very glad that I experienced it in this very civilized, very generous and very charming country. I am also very happy that it is happening after a performance of the Bartók concerto, which is a work that is close to my heart and which has been played by my colleagues and Dr Blomstedt so beautifully. I cannot imagine a more empathetic execution than yours. This is exactly what music can do: embrace you in a work of art, immerse you in another person’s imaginary world. I am also moved that the Sonning Prize is associated with another prize; in other words, that music and peace are, in a way, united. It was once believed that everything depended on this or that religion, and that all actions in the world were determined or governed by belief. In our time, despite the fact that we know about science, we have not yet found a universal morality. Imagine if music could show the way to a united world, then even our daily dealings could be governed by what Bartók and Beethoven wrote and what our colleagues in India are playing. If we can get to the point where everything is determined by what underlies the most beautiful music and art, then we will have found a new universal morality.’

The programme

Knudåge Riisager Erasmus Montanus
Béla Bartók Violin Concerto no. 2
Beethoven Symphony no. 6
J. S. Bach Movement from the E major Partita (encore)

Yehudi Menuhin, violin
Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Herbert Blomstedt

Menuhin and Denmark

The first time Yehudi Menuhin played in Copenhagen was for an audience of 7000, who heard him play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto at the Forum on 12 October 1947. On his next visit, in September 1952, Menuhin visited to make a recording of Carl Nielsen’s Violin Concerto for EMI with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Mogens Wöldike. Menuhin offered to play Carl Nielsen’s Violin Concerto with the orchestra on a tour of the USA, but for practical reasons this was not possible. However, Menuhin was a soloist with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra at the Edinburgh Festival in 1958 and 1961, and later performed with the orchestra in the double role of soloist and conductor at a various concerts, including one in 1970 when he played Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 3 and works by Bach, Schubert and Britten.

In April 1972, prior to the prize concert, Menuhin was interviewed by Politiken and said, among other things, ‘it was intended that my wife and I should have been married in Denmark right after the war, but we did not succeed. We have always loved Denmark and have always been delighted to come here. You inhale a cultural atmosphere here, from the food to the opera and the ballet. There is a clarity to the light; there is a simply wonderful light over Denmark.’

In 1988, when Menuhin no longer performed as a violin soloist due to his age, he was the conductor for a recording of Nielsen’s Violin Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and soloist Arve Tellefsen. Nielsen’s Symphony No 4, the Inextinguishable, was also recorded.

The daily press wrote, among other things:

Bartók’s concerto thrived on Menuhin’s distinctive, sleek, power-fuelled sound that trebled with sensitivity and warmth. And from his empathy, which all makes Menuhin certainly worth honouring with an award.

(Jørgen Falck, Faaborg Amtavis, 14 May 1972)

The Bartók concerto has been faithfully championed by Menuhin for thirty years, and his performance of the large, demanding solo part was admirable for the clarity of its passagework and for its altitudinous moments, which stood almost as luminescence in space. Spiritual mastery in good interplay with the orchestra, which held fast during most of this score’s nasty surprises. As a thank you for a huge round of applause, Menuhin played a movement of Bach’s A major Partita for Solo Violin, and he did so with supernatural magnificence, so pure, and so noble in form and sound.

(Robert Naur, Politiken, 13 May 1972)


Please share this post

Other recipients