Continuity and Change in Eugène Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas, Op. 27, for Solo Violin

Rittstieg, Jessika Ulrike (2018). Continuity and Change in Eugène Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas, Op. 27, for Solo Violin. PhD thesis The Open University.



The Six Sonatas, Op. 27, for Solo Violin by the Belgian violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931), written in 1923/24, are increasingly adopted into the standard repertoire of violinists. Ysaÿe saw them as containing his legacy to future generations of violinists and composers and also as a statement of his aesthetic identity. However, not much research has been done on the aesthetics reflected in them. Yet, a greater awareness of Ysaÿe’s aesthetics will add to the understanding of this important historical figure who did so much to popularise French and Belgian music of the turn of the twentieth century and very much identified with the circle of composers around César Franck.

This thesis focusses on Ysaÿe’s relationship with music history as represented in Op. 27. It explores his aesthetics, in particular his attitude to the past, present and future as well as his insistence on the continuity of history. Part I examines Ysaÿe’s historical and biographical context as well as his aesthetic predilections. It particularly focuses on composers to whom he was close, notably the Franckists, as well as on the violin tradition of which he was part, with an emphasis on Henri Vieuxtemps. As each Sonata is dedicated to a violinist of the generation after Ysaÿe, their personalities and playing styles are also discussed. Part II turns to the Sonatas themselves and explores ways in which Ysaÿe engages with past and contemporaneous composers, notably J. S. Bach, César Franck and Claude Debussy, as well as with the violin tradition and the possible influence of the dedicatees on their Sonata. It also demonstrates Ysaÿe’s contribution to music history, especially to the development of the technical and expressive possibilities of his instrument.

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