Ysaÿe

The Belgium composer and violinist Eugene Auguste Ysaye was Born on the 16th of July 1858 in Liege. He started playing the violin under the guidance of his father, and later in his life claimed that his father taught him everything he knew with regard to the instrument. At the age of seven he was admitted at the Liege conservatory but was denied his continuation of his study in 1869. At the age of twelve, Ysaye, who learned most of the repertoire by himself, was taken by the famous Henri Vieuxtemps as a student, after hearing him studying.

After Ysaye's studies he became the principal violinist in the orchestra that later became the Berlin Philharmonic. There he was recognized by many famous musicians who helped him with his career as a solist. At the age of twenty-eight he started teaching at the Brussels conservatory, a position that he kept for nearly the rest of his life.

As a composer, Ysaye became most famous for his six solo-violin sonatas. There are many more works that he composed, for solo violin, violin with piano and the accompaniment of the orchestra. There are also works for other instruments, like his sonata for solo-cello. What is less known is that Ysaye was an arranger of violin sonatas from the Baroque period. The most famous one being the sonata in F minor by Locatelli 'Au Tombeau'. He considered the baroque violin sonata as an important factor in his concert program. It is also known that he was often in search for old scores in second-hand book stores to find unknown works from the baroque period.

The arrangements and editions of the early twentieth century are nowadays highly debatable, especially from the point of view of realized Basso continuo and slurring/articulation. With the revival, in the beginning of the 19th century, of the baroque pieces, the tradition of arrangements (which was also a common practice in the baroque period) was maintained and suited to the performance practice of that period. Ysaye did arrange these baroque works with a definite touch of his own aesthetic judgement even though he claimed that "I simply add something to what the music has to say" ('Ysaÿe and Ratcliff, Ysaÿe, p.198-99). One of the aspects that Ysaÿe added to these sonatas were his own cadenza's.


When one looks at the sonata's that Ysaÿe arranged one can see that, even though he said that he wanted to keep the music as it was, these works are given a very romantic 'jacket', in which the work has been given new ornaments, phrasing, articulation, slurs, different notes and even forms. In the arrangement of Nardini's sonata op.2 no.5, Ysaÿe added a movement from the Sonata op.2 no.3. Having that said, the greatness of these works lies in the fact that Ysaÿe was able to catch the affect of the music and transform it, always keeping the original music in mind, to a twenteeth century work.


Most of the arrangements were published in the last decade of his life. Often by 'Editions Ysaÿe'.