Revealed: How Elgar grabbed Yehudi by the googlies

`Time, cricket and weather. A mighty triangle of conflicting interests. Extraordinary'
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The Independent Culture
IN THE wake of the death of Yehudi Menuhin, I have received many letters of tribute to him and think it only right to print a selection today.

From Mr George "Gubby" Trotter OBE

Sir, in all the richly deserved tributes to Yehudi Menuhin, I have seen none that mentioned his very real love of cricket.

You would think that a man of his background - American, Jewish - would have nothing in common with the world of willow and greensward, but he fell in love with this ancient game as easily as he fell in love with the equally English sounds of Elgar. Many classical musicians have a weakness for the great game, and when the young Yehudi was on tour with the orchestras of the Thirties, he was inducted early into the mysteries of this ancient English game.

"In those pre-motorway days," he once told me, "we travelled slowly by coach and had to make many halts for what the Americans call comfort stops and what British musicians call a quick slash. Well, if you stop in the middle of the country it takes not much more than a minute for the average orchestra to pick two scratch sides and start playing. Once we left three viola players in a field in Leicestershire. We didn't notice for an hour and had to choose whether to go back and collect them or get to the concert on time. As they were only viola players we went on. I often wonder if they are still there!

From Mrs Angela Quigley

Sir, as a cricket-loving flautist I can vouch for every word of the above. Menuhin threw himself into the intricacies of cricket as keenly as he did into the byways of oriental philosophy - indeed, he once said to me that the two were closer than was commonly realised.

"In some ways cricket is a paradigm for the unknowable," he said to me once, as we fielded side by side in the slips. "To a foreigner like me, there is something awesome about a game that can last either five days or a couple of hours, that can finish before the allotted time span or only be halfway through when time is up. It is also the only game which stops when it rains. Time, cricket and weather. A mighty triangle of conflicting interests. Extraordinary..."

At least, I think that is what he said. As a devotee of yoga, he often adopted an upside down position in the field, which made it hard to hear what he said. But it often served to put off an incoming batsman! And I have seen him bring off great slip catches using only his feet!

From Arnold Palmer (no relation)

Sir, music is a mysterious business. I remember once umpiring a match in which Yehudi Menuhin was playing. He was a remarkable spin bowler. He never span the ball at all, which made the batsmen so nervous that they often played for spin and missed it. Occasionally he would spin the ball by accident, which confused them further. "They can't spot my right 'un, Arnold," he would grin.

Once, when he was bowling, I failed to call the end of the over and he said, somewhat sharply, that we had already had six balls. I said it was impossible. I always counted six pebbles from pocket to pocket and still had one pebble left.

"I think you will find you haven't", he said tartly. "If an international violinist can't count six beats in a bar or six balls in an over without even thinking about it..."

I later found that one of my pebbles had split in half in my pocket and what I thought was a pebble was only half a pebble. He was absolutely right!

From Sir Norman Grudgeon

Sir, I would like to vouch for the generous sentiments expressed in previous letters on the subject of Yehudi Menuhin and cricket. I often sat on the same committees as he did, and there was never a time when his philosophical, sometimes even saintly, interventions failed to baffle us.

I once asked him what he thought about when he was playing Elgar's Violin Concerto, and he said he usually thought about cricket. Sometimes he would replay whole matches in his mind as he sawed away. Once, he said, he had played the Elgar at Carnegie Hall, and in the second movement had come to such an exciting bit of fast bowling that he had shouted out "How's that!" in a very quiet bit. The audience, being American, had no idea what it meant, and the conductor whispered: "It's fine".

"What do you think about when you play cricket?" I said.

"Elgar, normally," he said.

"And what are you thinking about now?"

"How to get away from you without hurting your feelings."

I often wonder what he meant by that.