Willa Cather and Yehudi Menuhin: an unlikely and unbreakable friendship


When Menuhin was navigating young love, Cather was a source of advice: “I always keep your future in mind,” she told him in a letter, and gushed about his marriage to Nola Nicholas. “No artist has ever had such a fortunate marriage,” Cather wrote to her friend Zoë Akins. “Yehudi loves goodness more than anything (I mean beautiful goodness) and he has it.”

When Cather was confined to the house for four weeks due to bronchitis, Yehudi and Nola Menuhin visited her almost every day; He tended the fire and she made tea. It was an even greater comfort when Cather experienced a loss: the death of her brothers and her old friend Isabelle McClung Hambourg, who had introduced Cather and Menuhin.

However, it did little to lift her from the depressive isolation that followed her surgery for breast cancer in early 1946. She did not see any friends, “not even Yehudi,” and did not even listen to music, she wrote to her sister. -Mother-in-law Meta Cather. “At the moment, I have simply had to eliminate everything I loved most.”

Cather would distinguish it again; Her last night in town was to see Menuhin play at Carnegie Hall. Then, in March 1947, she visited her at her home with her two children. Hephzibah was also there with her husband and her two children. “Here we all were (only the children were new), the rest of us were sitting in these rooms just as we used to gather here every week 10 and 12 years ago,” she recounted Cather in a letter the next day.

The Menuhins passed by on their way to board the Queen Elizabeth. About an hour and a half before they set sail, “they got up quietly,” Cather recalled, and then “without any rush, they took the elevator down to the street floor.” Apparently understood but unspoken was that this would be the last time they would see each other. Cather died in April.

In the letter about that final visit, Cather said that this friendship had been “one of the chief interests and joys of my life.” She even went so far as to say that she would prefer almost every other chapter of her life to be left out than her time with Menuhin and her sisters. Even then, as adults, she considered them dear children to her, Aunt Willa.

“Today,” he said at the end of the letter, “these rooms seem truly filled with your presence and your faithful and loving friendship.”

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