Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Menuhin, Hephzibah (1920–1981)

by Jacqueline Kent

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Hephzibah Menuhin, 1951 (detail)

Hephzibah Menuhin, 1951 (detail)

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3425748

Hephzibah Menuhin (1920-1981), pianist and social activist, was born on 20 May 1920 in San Francisco, United States of America, second child of Russian-born Moshe Menuhin, manager of the Jewish Education Society, and his wife Marutha, née Sher.  Hephzibah’s childhood was shaped by the career of her elder brother Yehudi, who was widely regarded as the twentieth century’s greatest child prodigy violinist.  From 1926 the family travelled in Europe for long periods, the children all observing a strict regime of study and practice.

Like her younger sister, Yaltah, Menuhin showed great early talent as a pianist and made her public début in San Francisco aged 8.  Although her parents rejected a career in music for her, she was allowed to be Yehudi’s accompanist.  In 1933 their recording of Mozart’s Sonata in A won the Candide prize, and their musical partnership continued at intervals for the rest of Hephzibah’s life.

In 1934, while living in Paris, the family travelled with Yehudi on a concert tour to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.  They settled in Los Gatos, California, in 1936 and Hephzibah was offered a solo début with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for 1939.  After a performance in London in March 1938, she and Yehudi had been introduced by (Sir) Bernard Heinze to Lindsay and Nola Nicholas, the children of George Nicholas.  Yehudi and Nola quickly became engaged.  Hephzibah proposed to the twenty-one-year-old Lindsay; they married on 16 July 1938 in a civil ceremony at Los Gatos.

Returning to Australia to live on the Nicholas’s sheep property Terinallum in Victoria’s Western District, Menuhin took to life in the country with enthusiasm—if with views on diet, dress and education seen by locals as idiosyncratic.  Unselfconsciously beautiful, with flowing golden hair, she gave concerts in Melbourne and other parts of Australia during World War II, often for charity, established Red Cross units in her area, and fostered Melbourne war orphans and refugees.  In 1948 she initiated and ran Victoria’s first travelling library for children.

Continuing her concert career after the war, Menuhin supported the new Musica Viva Society of Australia, often toured with Ernest Llewellyn and introduced works by Bloch, Bartok and Shostakovitch to Australian audiences.  In 1947, during a tour of the USA and Europe with Yehudi, she visited Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic), an experience that affirmed her Jewishness and exposed what she now saw as the smallness of her Australian life.  Questioning her political, religious and social assumptions, she began to speak out and write about progressive causes, including education and women’s issues.  Her interests in left-wing ideas and politics were encouraged by the Melbourne businessman, Paul Morawetz, who was her lover from 1946 to 1949.

Menuhin’s marriage was increasingly troubled but it did not break until she met Richard Hauser in 1952.  A Viennese-born Jewish refugee, Hauser possessed a passionate devotion to social and humanitarian causes which fuelled her own.  Early in 1954 she left Nicholas and their two sons to live and work with Hauser in Sydney.  Divorced on 10 November 1954, she married Hauser at the registrar general’s office, Sydney, on 22 April 1955.  In March 1957 they left Australia and settled in London.

Although continuing to perform, mainly in recitals with Yehudi and in chamber groups, Menuhin now considered her concert appearances subordinate to her work with Hauser.  Partly supported by wealthy philanthropists, they usually had at least twenty projects running at once, including counselling marginalised ethnic minorities, prison inmates and victims of domestic violence; undertaking social surveys for the British Home Office; working with the peace movement in India; and trying to establish human rights centres and to mediate between paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. Together they wrote The Fraternal Society (1962), outlining their theories and practices.

Colleagues and visitors found their work stimulating but undisciplined.  Their challenge was to encourage individuals to change destructive patterns of behaviour; their success is hard to evaluate.  While Menuhin always deferred to Hauser’s intuitive, autocratic brilliance, she was the better organiser, writer and strategic thinker.  In 1977-81 she served as British president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Menuhin frequently returned to Australia, sometimes to perform with her brother.  In 1977 she joined the judging panel for the first Sydney International Piano Competition.  In that year she developed cancer of the throat, against which she battled until her death in London on 1 January 1981.  She was survived by her husband, the two sons of her first marriage and the daughter of her second.  A piano scholarship in her memory was established by the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, and a chair in piano studies at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem.

Select Bibliography

  • Y. Menuhin, Unfinished Journey (1978)
  • L. M. Rolfe, The Menuhins (1978)
  • J. Kent, An Exacting Heart (2008)
  • private information

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jacqueline Kent, 'Menuhin, Hephzibah (1920–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/menuhin-hephzibah-14967/text26156, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 23 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Hephzibah Menuhin, 1951 (detail)

Hephzibah Menuhin, 1951 (detail)

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3425748

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Nicholas, Hephzibah
  • Hauser, Hephzibah
Birth

20 May 1920
San Francisco, California, United States of America

Death

1 January 1981
London, Middlesex, England

Cause of Death

cancer (oesophageal)

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation