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Eugène Ysaÿe

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Eugene-Auguste Ysaÿe (1858-1931) was a Belgian violinist and composer.

Born in Liège on 16th July 1858, Ysaÿe began violin lessons at age five with his father. He would later recognize his father’s teaching as the foundation of everything he knew on his instrument, even though he went on to study with more reputable masters. At seven he entered the Conservatoire at Liège studying with Joseph Massart, though soon afterwards he was asked to leave the conservatory because of lack of progress. This was because, in order to support his family, Ysaÿe had to play full time in two local orchestras, one conducted by his father. He went on playing in these ensembles, though he studied by himself and learned the repertoire of the violin. By the time he was twelve, he was playing so well that one day he was practising in a cellar when the legendary Henri Vieuxtemps, passing in the street, was so impressed with the sound of his violin that he took an interest in the boy. He arranged for Ysaÿe to be re-admitted to the conservatory, studying with Vieuxtemps’s assistant, the noted Henryk Wieniawski. Ysaÿe would later also study with Vieuxtemps, and they became very fond of each other. In his last years, Vieuxtemps asked Ysaÿe to come to the countryside just to play for him.

Studying with these teachers meant that he was part of the so-called Franco-Belgian school of violin playing, which dates back to the development of the modern violin bow by François Tourte. Qualities of this “École” included elegance, a full tone with a sense of drawing a “long” bow with no jerks, precise left hand techniques, and bowing using the whole forearm while keeping both the wrist and upper arm quiet (as opposed to Joseph Joachim’s German school of wrist bowing

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