The Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe (1858–1931) was one of the greatest virtuosos of the early recorded age. He was discovered as a 12-year-old prodigy by Henri Vieuxtemps, who heard him practising in a cellar as he passed by on the street above, and from there a legend was born. After study with Henryk Wieniawski and developing a ‘master and disciple’ relationship with Vieuxtemps, he graduated from the Liège Conservatoire to become the leader of the Benjamin Bilse Beerhall Orchestra, the beginnings of the Berlin Philharmonic; thus starting a career that would propel him to international fame. He toured Norway, Russia and France, and was awarded a professorship of violin at the Brussels Conservatoire. From 1918 to 1922 he came to America to conduct the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
Ysaÿe was famous for his expressiveness and intensive use of vibrato. He inspired works by César Franck, Camille Saint-Saëns, Claude Debussy and Gabriel Fauré as well as writing his own six sonatas for unaccompanied violin, eight violin concertos, various chamber works and an opera. He was idolized by many other virtuosos of his time, including Fritz Kreisler, Jacques Thibaud, Yehudi Menuhin and George Enesco. Pablo Casals claimed never to have heard a violinist play in tune before Ysaÿe, and Karl Flesch called him “the most outstanding and individual violinist I have ever heard in my life”. He formed a special friendship with Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, and it is to his memory that the Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition is dedicated.
Ysaÿe owned several excellent bows by makers such as Tourte, Peccatte and Sartory. This silver-mounted François Peccatte bow is of superb quality. It was sold by the dealer Jacques Français in 1980 and is believed to come from Français’s father, Emile, who was the source of many other ex-Ysaÿe bows such as those owned by Isaac Stern.
Formerly attributed to Dominique Peccatte, it is in fact the work of François Peccatte, the younger brother of Dominique and father of Charles. Bows by François Peccatte vary greatly in quality of materials and workmanship. Unlike many of his contemporaries who mounted their best bows in gold, tortoiseshell and ivory, François Peccatte seems to have gone in the other direction. His best bows are mounted in silver and ebony and even those, as this example shows, often have a nickel underslide. The head model is similar to that of his elder brother, with a very strong and angular profile. The ferrule is engraved ‘EY’.