Léonie Sonning Awards 1972

Yehudi Menuhin

The violinist Yehudi Menuhin received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 60,000 at a concert held on Friday, 12 May 1972 in the Tivoli Concert Hall. 

The music prize was presented by editor Børge Friis, Dr.Phil.

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


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 60,000 is hereby awarded to Yehudi Menuhin in profound admiration of his universal contribution and uncompromising efforts in the service of music and humanity. Yehudi Mehuhin’s work as a violinist, music aesthetician and music educationalist will remain as an expression of the highest artistic and human ideals.

Menuhin and Denmark

The first time Menuhin played in Copenhagen, it was to an audience of no less than 7,000 people: on 12 October 1947 in Forum, where he played the Beethoven violin concerto.

The next time he was in this country, it turned into a national event: a gramophone recording of Carl Nielsen’s violin concerto with the world-famous violinist. According to the musicians taking part, he admittedly learnt the concerto first during the actual recordings – but even so! The recording took place at the end of September 1952; Mogens Wöldke – a later prize-winner – conducted the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, and the recording has since been released on Virgin Classics.

Menuhin offered to join the orchestra on its tour of USA and to play the concerto over there without taking a fee, but for practical reasons this proved impossible. On the other hand, he went with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra as a soloist on tours to the Edinburgh Festival in 1958 and 1961.

Yehudi Menuhin was 56 years old when he received the music prize. Before the concert, Politiken’s Ninka met him in London, where she described him as "full of life both inside and out [...] slim, ethereal and with that astral gaze that warmly and prophetically embraces and perceives this world – and is also a part of others."

He said to the Danish portraitist that "I think we all have talent, I think talent is quite simply a joy at being alive – the feeling of being capable of doing something, the wish to communicate oneself – to transform the mystery into knowledge about life, no matter whether this knowledge then applies to ourselves or to the whole universe. Art is the core of life. It is the purest aspiration – innocence. It is the best of our thoughts. It is our consciousness and our conscience."

After having received the music prize, the tall, boyish, humanist Yehudi Menuhin thanked, among others, the musicians in the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Blomstedt for their sympathetic insight into Bartók’s concerto, one that was very dear to him, and he also said that "formerly people had hoped to improve the world by this religion or that. In our scientifically oriented age that is no longer the case, but if human beings could absorb the thoughts and morality enshrined in Beethoven’s or Bartók’s music, a world of peace would be a possibility."

Selected Music by Yehudi Menuhin

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"The Bartók concerto has been cultivated faithfully by Menuhin for thirty years, and his performance of the large, very demanding solo voice was admirable for its clarity in the playing of the passages – and for high passages that stand out as being almost luminescent. Spiritual mastery in fine interaction with the orchestra, which had a good grasp of most of the nasty surprises in the score."

(Robert Naur, Politiken, 13 May 1972)

"[…] Bartók’s concerto came to life, thanks to Menuhin’s distinctive, willowy, rich sound, which quivered with sensitivity and warmth. And of empathetic imaginativeness, all of which makes Menuhin worthy of receiving a prize."

(Jørgen Falck, Faaborg Amtsavis, 14 May 1972)

"[…] The performance [of Bartók’s violin concerto] was masterly. One of Menuhin’s successful. Of the many facets in the work, only the more rough and harsh were underplayed. For Menuhin is too fine and sensitive and artist for such. The formidably beautiful and vibrant tone did not fail for a moment, and the variations of the andante were quite ethereal."

(John Christiansen, Jyllands-Posten, 13 May 1972)