EUGENE YSAYE (1858 - 1931)
The Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe was among the leading virtuosi of his day, inspiring admiration rather than jealous rivalry from other great contemporary performers. Born in Liège in 1858, he was taught by his father, Nicolas-Joseph Ysaÿe, a violinist and opera conductor, and entered the Liège Conservatoire in 1865, studying there with D. Heynberg. At the death of his mother in 1868 and after disagreement with his teacher, he left, accompanying his father on concert tours and playing in the orchestras the latter conducted. In 1872 he returned to Liège to study with Rodolphe and Lon Massart, completing his training there with distinction in 1874. He continued his studies with Wieniawski in Brussels and later, from 1876 to 1879, with Vieuxtemps in Paris.
After leaving Paris, Ysaÿe took a position as leader of the Bilse Orchestra in Berlin, where he continued until 1882. The period brought concert tours through Scandinavia and Russia with Anton Rubinstein, a collaboration that he found helped his own musical development. In 1883 he returned to Paris, associating there with leading composers, including César Franck and Camille Saint-Saëns, and, from the younger generation, Ernest Chausson, Gabriel Fauré, Vincent d’Indy and Claude Debussy, exercising an important influence on French violin music of the time. Franck’s Violin Sonata was dedicated to him as a wedding present, and Ysaÿe gave the first performances in Brussels in 1886, and then in Paris. Other dedications included Chausson’s Poème and Violin Concerto and Debussy’s String Quartet. Piére li houyeû (Peter the Miner) was staged in Liège and then in Brussels. His health allowed him to attend the second of these, three weeks before his death on 12 May 1931.
Ysaÿe had considerable influence on the development of violin-playing after Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps, and there are many reminiscences of his playing and teaching. Yehudi Menuhin recalls a visit to Brussels to see Ysaÿe, the mentor of his own teacher, Louis Persinger, when he was, quite rightly, told to practise scales and arpeggios, advice that other great teachers have been heard to give. Joseph Szigeti recalled Ysaÿe’s father’s early prohibition of premature use of vibrato, finding here the reason for Ysaÿe’s own disciplined use of this technique, while Carl Flesch declared Ysaÿe’s influence the most vital and continuing. In 1937 the Eugène Ysaÿe International Competition was established, an event that later became the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition. As a composer Ysaÿe lacked formal training but wrote a number of works for violin and orchestra, orchestral compositions and chamber music.