Ysaye, Eugene: ‘Caprice d’après l’Étude en forme de valse de C. Saint-Saëns’

Eugene Ysaye was one of the finest violinists in the storied history of the instrument. Like many performers of earlier generations, he wrote a substantial number of works for his own concerts, as well as for his students and friends. The current work is based on a piece by Camille Saint-Saëns, who was not known as a deep or probing composer, and a virtuosic caprice built upon his tunes has little potential to be a life-altering musical experience. But this is not a flaw: Saint-Saëns had few intentions to write metaphysical works, and neither did Ysaÿe. And even the simplest works of Ysaÿe, light though the may be, defy dismissal. His virtuosity is too inviting; his harmonic insights are too acute; and his sense of what to give as a neighborly offering is unfailingly warm. This brief fantasy is not only built upon the work of Saint-Saëns, but upon Ysaÿe’s unmatched knowledge of the possibilities of music as it lies in the wood, gut, and hair of the instrument itself.

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