Considered one of the greatest violinists of all time, the Belgian Eugène Ysaÿe (1858–1931) began lessons with his father at age five, and entered the Royal Conservatory in his hometown of Liège two years later. But, unlike Alard and Vieuxtemps, Ysaÿe was not a prodigious success, and he was soon asked to leave when his lessons did not progress satisfactorily--it seems that in order to help support his impoverished family, young Eugène had to play full-time in two local orchestras, unfortunately leaving little time to practice. But he continued studying on his own, and, as the story goes, by chance Henri Vieuxtemps passed by where Ysaÿe was practicing and, so impressed by what he heard, he got the 12-year-old youth readmitted to the Conservatory. Ysaÿe’s teachers included the Polish virtuoso and composer Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) as well as Vieuxtemps himself, but Ysaÿe credited his father as the teacher who had the greatest impact on the way he performed.

Ysaÿe began his post-student career as concertmaster of Benjamin Bilse's orchestra (which would later become the Berlin Philharmonic). His playing impressed many of the day's leading musicians, including Anton Rubinstein (1828-1894), and the famous pianist invited the young violinist to accompany him on tour. But Ysaÿe's solo career really took off in 1885, when he was invited to perform works by Lalo and Saint-Saëns in Paris, and Ysaÿe soon became a favorite of many leading composers, including Debussy and Franck. From 1886-1898 Ysaÿe was a professor at the Brussels Conservatory, and he continued to expand his fame as a performer. Even after leaving the Conservatory he continued to teach into his final years, and he also gained fame as a conductor. Ysaÿe was invited to lead the New York Philharmonic in 1898, but he declined due to the demands of his solo career. But as health issues began to affect his playing more and more, he accepted the conductorship of the Cincinnati Symphony from 1918-1922, and he devoted more time to composing.

Among the best-known of Ysaÿe’s compositions are the technically demanding Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27, composed in 1923. In addition to incorporating contemporary compositional techniques such as the use of microtones and whole tone scales in some of them, each sonata is dedicated to a different virtuoso whose playing inspired the style of the sonata. -- Ed Lein, c2011
This biography was most recently edited by...
edwardlein - 3 Dec 2011