Back in my childhood, no television, a barely working radio set, evenings were a bit different in a family like ours, than these days. We were talking about the day, problems, news, but also memories and of course, music. My father was a good storyteller and since he was born couple of generations earlier than I, his stories from especially from the 1910-20’s were very interesting. He was a self-taught violinist, had found a violin in his family’s attic and learned from a gypsy musician at a local restaurant; he became a very enthusiastic musician later. One of his nicest stories was about a recital of Ysaÿe.
It was in the medium-sized town of Kassa (now Kosice in Slovakia) where they lived with limited possibilities of entertainment, without a concert hall, only a theatre. (The present concert hall was the old Synagogue of those days, I played there actually once several years ago) A visit of a famous artist was always very welcome, so it was also a big event when Ysaÿe came to give a concert there.
Nobody knew anything about Ysaÿe but a large audience showed up out of curiosity. The first surprise was a big chair in the middle of the stage. And then Ysaÿe himself, with his appearance, coming slowly to this chair, and starting to play… Bach, and his own compositions. I loved this story so much that I asked my dad to tell it to me many times, of course, his narration was much more interesting than mine here.
Years later, in my first year at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest, he often asked me if any others knew about Ysaÿe, whether they play his music. Well, those days, still closed from the rest of the Western world in Hungary, we had difficulties getting many necessities for our work with music, like strings, but also sheet music other than Eastern German, Russian and of course Hungarian editions. Ysaÿe’s music was not available at all, so I went to the Liszt Academy library, after searching other libraries. Luckily, I found one, only one work by him, the Solosonata no. six, which had never been played. I’ll always remember what it looked like, it was a huge black booklet that didn’t fit into my violin case, and the notation really big, a bit unusual print with unusual markings in it. I was really happy to have it, but since that day I wasn’t going straight home, I couldn’t resist trying it at my girlfriend’s place. It was an amazing experience. Right from the beginning with the first huge chord, that was absolutely unique to me, I was able to play more or less through the whole piece, surprising myself because it was written so unbelievably “violinistic” and playable. Even the most impossible looking chords were manageable after couple of attempts.
Again many years later, after playing the other Sonatas as well, I started to search for more works by Ysaÿe because I couldn’t believe that such a wonderful composer had only written a few sonatas. Using resources in North America, known by any Ysaÿe “lover” we found many works, inclusive the Sonata for two violins, the trios Le Chimay and La Londres, along with many other pieces.
The two trios have been published by Schott and since then I have edited many other works with the hope that other violinists would include them as a wonderful part of the violin literature.
I have performed the trio Le Chimay in concert couple of times in Canada, (presumably as Canadian premiere), recorded and performed the Duo Sonata in Canada and Japan and recorded the trio Le Londres. (CD release by Hevhetia, HV0040-2-331). Currently I am also planning future performances and recordings of several other works by Ysaÿe.