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Classical Music

Music In The Making: Ysaÿe’s Birthday Bash

An hour of music dedicated to or written by Eugène Ysaÿe in honor of his birthday.


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Happy Birthday Ysaye!
Dacia Clay
Happy Birthday Ysaye!

On this week’s episode, we’re celebrating the birthday of virtuoso violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe, who was born 158 years ago on July 16th, with music by Ernest Chausson, Gabriel Fauré, César Franck, and Ysaÿe himself.

Portrait of Ernest Chausson
Bibliothèque nationale de France
Portrait of Ernest Chausson

Ernest Chausson– Poème
Natalie Lin, violin; Moores School Symphony Orchestra; Roger Kalia, conductor
Moores Opera House

Fellow violinist Joseph Szigeti described Eugène Ysaÿe as “Perhaps the last great representative of the true grand manner of violin-playing.” Ysaÿe began playing violin at the young age of four, only to make his public debut three years later when he was seven. This virtuosity perhaps explains the astounding number of works dedicated to him, which number around 200, including Ernest Chausson’s Poème. Written as an nontraditional substitute for a concerto, this one-movement work may be summed up by Claude Debussy’s review after hearing a performance in 1913, when he said, “fine music this, and full of ardor.”

Eugène Ysaÿe– Sonata No. 3,”Ballade”
Andrzej Grabiec, violin
Moores Opera House

Inspired by the complexity and expressivity of Bach’s six solo Partitas and Sonatas for violin, Eugène Ysaÿe penned his own set of solo sonatas for the violin. Each one of the six is dedicated to a contemporary violinist, and reflects the style of its honoree. The third, called “Ballade,” is a single movement work dedicated to George Enescu. Divided into two sections, the introduction emerges from a single note, rapidly becoming a complex polyphonic web. The second section is driven, with snappy dotted rhythms and unceasing sets of double stops.

Portrait of Gabriel Fauré
Pierre Petit, Gallica
Portrait of Gabriel Fauré

Gabriel Fauré–Quartet for Piano and Strings, Allegro Molto Moderato
Faculty of the Texas Music Festival
Dudley Recital Hall

After settling in Paris in 1883 after an extended concert tour, Eugène Ysaÿe became close with a number of the city's musical luminaries, including Camille Saint-Saëns, Claude Debussy, and Gabriel Fauré. These relationships proved fruitful; Ysaÿe's playing inspired string quartets by Saint-Saëns and Debussy, as well as Fauré's first piano quintet. Fauré and Ysaÿe also concertized together, performing Fauré's second piano quartet together in Brussels on numerous occasions. Clearly, Fauré felt strongly about Ysaÿe's chamber music capabilities, and it is no stretch to imagine the great violinist playing any of Fauré's compositions

Portrait of César Franck
Pierre Petit, New York Public Library
Portrait of César Franck

César Franck–Violin Sonata in A Major
May 15, 2014
Boson Mo and Andrew Staupe

On September 29th, 1886, Eugène Ysaÿe married Louise Bourdeau de Coutrai. That morning, he received a wedding present from his friend, Cesar Franck. It was a score to Franck’s newly composed and only Violin Sonata, dedicated to Ysaÿe. After a hurried rehearsal, Ysaÿe performed the work as part of the nuptial festivities. Ysaÿe played it throughout his life, telling audiences that he played it “con amore,” because of its history.

This episode originally aired Sunday, July 17th, 2016. Catch Music in the Making every Sunday at 7:06 PM on Classical