Born: Jul 16, 1858 in Liege
Dead: May 12, 1931 in Liege
Genre: Chamber Music
Eugene Ysaye was one of the greatest violinists who ever lived. He coupled beauty of tone and remarkable technical ability with a depth of musical expression that few violinists before or since can be said to have equalled, or even approached. Ysaye succeeded in breathing new life into an art that had become polarized by two divergent styles and personalities: the austere temperament of Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), and the flashy virtuosity of Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908). Ysaye achieved a grand synthesis of these two approaches by imbuing the "serious" music of Mozart, Brahms, and Beethoven, so dear to Joachim, with the flashy yet never superficial brilliance that Sarasate had been wont to apply to "lesser" works in the repertoire. Ysaye became the leading violinist of his time, spawning many illustrious pupils and proteges, among them Josef Gingold and Fritz Kreisler. Ysaye was also an accomplished composer, whose Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Opus 27 (1924) are recognized masterpieces of the genre.
Eugene Ysaye was born on July 16, 1858 in Liege, Belgium. He received his first violin lessons from his father when he was five years old. After this he studied with Rodolphe Massart, making his first public appearance at age seven. Ysaye was not, however, a prodigy; he was later kicked out of the Liege Conservatory due to poor performance! But he persisted, and went on to study with the famous violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski (1835-80) with whom he made considerable progress; he was soon accepted as a student by the legendary Belgian violinist-composer Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-81).
In 1879, Ysaye made the acquaintance of Joseph Joachim, and performed with Clara Schumann. He soon began touring, visiting Norway in 1881, and playing at the Paris Conservatory in 1883. In Paris, he befriended the composer Cesar Franck, who wrote his beautiful Sonata for Piano and Violin in A Major (1886) as a wedding present for Ysaye. This work soon became a signature piece for the violinist, who stamped it with his own inimitable style.
During this period, Ysaye founded the Concerts in Brussels that bore his name, as well as his own string quartet, which included his pupil Mathieu Crickboom, to whom Ysaye later dedicated the fifth of his Six Sonatas for Solo Violin. This ensemble premiered Claude Debussy's String Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 10 in 1893. A year later Ysaye made his first appearance in America, where he met with tremendous sucess, finally returning in 1918 to take over the post of conductor for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra which he held until 1922.
- Edward Moore (All Music Guide)