Ysaye, Eugène (-Auguste)

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Ysaye, Eugène (-Auguste)

Ysaye, Eugène (-Auguste), famous Belgian violinist, conductor, and composer, brother of Théophile Ysaye;

b. Liège, July 16,1858; d. Brussels, May 12,1931. At the age of 4, he began to study violin with his father, a theater conductor, and at the age of 7 he was enrolled at the Liège Cons, as a pupil of Désiré Heynberg, winning 2nd prize in 1867. In 1869 he left the Cons. in a dispute with his mentor, but was readmitted in 1872 as a pupil of Rodolphe Massart, winning 1st prize in 1873 and the silver medal in 1874; then continued his training on a scholarship at the Brussels Cons, with Wieniawski; later completed his studies with Vieuxtemps in Paris (1876-79). In 1879 he became concertmaster of Bilse’s orch. in Berlin; appeared as a soloist at Pauline Lucca’s concerts in Cologne and Aachen; in Germany he met Anton Rubinstein, who took him to Russia, where he spent 2 winters; he also toured in Norway. In 1883 he settled in Paris, where he met Franck, d’Indy et al., and gave successful concerts; he formed a duo with the pianist Raoul Pugno, and started a long series of concerts with him, establishing a new standard of excellence. On Sept. 26, 1886, he married Louise Bourdeau; Franck dedicated his violin sonata to them as a wedding present; Ysaye’s interpretation of this work made it famous. In 1886 he was named a prof. at the Brussels Cons, (resigned in 1898); in 1886 he also organized the Ysaye Quartet (with Crickboom, Léon Van Hout, and Joseph Jacob); Debussy dedicated his string quartet to Ysaye’s group, which gave its first performance at the Société Nationale in Paris on Dec. 29, 1893. In 1889 Ysaye made successful appearances in England. On Nov. 16,1894, he made his American debut playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the N.Y. Phil., and creatine a sensation by his virtuosity. He revisited America many times, with undiminished acclaim. He began his career as a conductor in 1894, and established in Brussels his own orch., the Société des Concerts Ysaye. When the Germans invaded Belgium in 1914, he fled to London, where he remained during World War I. On April 5, 1918, he made his American debut as a conductor with the Cincinnati Sym. Orch., and also led the Cincinnati May Festival in that year. His success was so great that he was offered a permanent position as conductor of the Cincinnati Sym. Orch., which he held from 1918 to 1922. He then returned to Belgium and resumed leadership of the Société des Concerts Ysaye. After the death of his first wife, he married, on July 9, 1927, an American pupil, Jeannette Dincin.

Ysaye’s style of playing is best described as heroic, but his art was equally convincing in the expression of moods of exquisite delicacy and tenderness; his frequent employment of “tempo rubato” produced an effect of elasticity without distorting the melodic line. His works include 8 violin concertos; 6 sonatas for solo violin; Poème nocturne for violin, cello, and strings; Les Harmonies du soir for string quartet and string orch.; Divertimento for violin and orch.; Méditation for cello and string orch.; Chant d’hiver for violin and chamber orch.; Trio de concert for 2 violins, viola, and orch.; Amitié for 2 violins and orch. At the age of 70, he began the composition of an opera in the Walloon language, Pier li Houïeu (Peter the Miner), which was premiered in Liège on March 4,1931, in the presence of the composer, who was brought to the theater in an invalid’s chair, suffering from the extreme ravages of diabetes, which had necessitated the amputation of his left foot. He began the composition of a 2nd Walloon opera, L’Avierge di Piér (La Vierge de Pierre), but had no time to complete it. In 1937 Queen Elisabeth of Belgium inaugurated the annual Prix International Eugene Ysaye in Brussels; the first winner was David Oistrakh.


E. Christen, Y (Geneva, 1946; 2nd ed., 1947); A. Ysaye and B. Ratcliffe, Y: His Life, Work and Influence (London, 1947); A. Ysaye, E. Y: Sa vie d’après les documents receuillis par son fils (Brussels, 1948; a considerably altered version of the preceding; Eng. tr., 1980, as Y, By His Son Antoine); A. Ysaye, E. Y, 1858-1931 (Brussels, 1972); M. Benoît-Jeannin, E. Y: Le dernier romantique ou le sacre du violon (Brussels, 1989); M. Stockhem, E. Y et la musique de chambre (Liège, 1990).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire