The Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe (1858–1931) was one of the greatest virtuosos of the early recorded age. Henri Vieuxtemps discovered him as a 12-year-old prodigy after hearing him practising in a cellar as he passed by on the street above. 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 begin a career that would propel him to international fame. He toured Norway, Russia and France, and became a violin professor at the Brussels Conservatoire.
Ysaÿe inspired works by Franck, Saint-Saëns, Debussy and Fauré, and wrote his own six sonatas for unaccompanied violin and eight violin concertos as well as other works. Many contemporaries idolized him, including Kreisler, Thibaud, Menuhin and Enesco. Pablo Casals claimed never to have heard a violinist play in tune before Ysaÿe, while Carl Flesch called him ‘the most outstanding and individual violinist I have ever heard in my life’. He became friends with Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, and the Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition is dedicated in his memory.