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History / 1900
Photo Eugène Ysaÿe (Liège 1858 - Brussels 1931)
It all began around 1900, when an encounter between two outstanding personalities led to a series of innovative, highly promising projects. On the one hand, Elisabeth von Wittelsbach, a Bavarian duchess, who had recently married Crown Prince Albert of Belgium and moved to Brussels. Through her father, a military man turned eminent ophthalmologist who was a pioneer of cataract operations, she had inherited, among other things, an overwhelming passion for music and was herself a very good violinist. A forceful personality, she was keen to make her mark on her age. On the other hand, Eugène Ysaÿe, a violin virtuoso who was just reaching the pinnacle of an exceptional career, worthy of his great talent. The first performer of Franck’s Violin Sonata, of Debussy’s Quartet, and of Chausson’s Poème, he had also founded a memorable quartet, a duo with Raoul Pugno that revolutionised the traditional recital, and a prestigious symphonic society that explored the modern repertory. He also taught at the Brussels Conservatory and performed on every continent; he was hailed as the most famous virtuoso of the day.

H.M. Queen Elisabeth in 1959 a the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel
When Albert I became king, Belgium acclaimed a queen whose love of art was not the least of her qualities. In 1912 Ysaÿe was appointed Royal Music Director, although his real ambition was to take a more active role at the helm of the Brussels Conservatory, an appointment that escaped him. His decline as a virtuoso saw him gradually abandon the concert stage after the War had driven him from Belgium. As the Music Director of the Cincinnati Orchestra from 1918 to 1922, Ysaÿe was never again able to find a suitable position in post-war Belgium. An apostle of post-romanticism and a virtuoso-composer and, moreover, ageing and ill, he was not looked on with a favourable eye in the period of the Groupe des Six, Stravinsky, and the Viennese… Ysaÿe composed a musical testament of considerable importance (the six sonatas for solo violin) and, surrounded by the warmth of his intimates, including Queen Elisabeth, Thibaud, Kreisler, Cortot, Casals, and Szigeti, he enjoyed the life of a retired virtuoso, punctuated by regular appearances as a conductor and by the composition of works of varying importance. Not all of his projects, however, came to fruition.
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