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Masterpieces to Discover 2


Eugène Ysaÿe (1858/1931)

Violonist and composer with an immense talent, as much as musician than as violinist. He suscitated among his friend the composition of many masterpieces from which many are dedicated to him, and that he spent his life defending in public... Sonata from César Franck, from Guillaume Lekeu, from Saint-Saëns, quartet from Debussy , from Chausson, Lekeu, Quintet from Fauré, Poème from Chausson, and many more... But apart of his 6 sonatas for solo violin which are now part of the music stock of all violinists including all students from the Big conservatoriums, he composed many magnificent works, rich melodically, somptuous in harmonies, particularly in that form that he affectionated : the poem.

Chausson actually took from him the idea : wanting to write a piece for him, he didn't know what type, a sonata, a concerto… but after having heard the first poem from Ysaÿee, the «Poème élégiaque » (on the death of Roméo and Juliette), he finally took the decision to write his famous poem, the one that for years people believed it was about the only work he ever composed!!

So, the « poèmes » from Ysaÿe are written sometime for violon & orchestra, 2 violins & orchestra, Violoncello & orchestra, violin violoncello & orchestra, solo string quartet & orchestre, and even string orchestra without basses (only the violins, divided in multiple parts and the violas, also divided)...

His style, though in the great tradition of the Franco-Belgian school which was his flesh and blood, and which allies an harmonic richness to a full and expressive melody, is very recognizable by the amplitude and the power of it songs, but also by a fluidity that can go to the diaphanous, in particular lwhen he finishes certain pieces... (Neiges d'antan, chant d'hiver...)

An harmonic richness directly inherited from Franck, Chausson, and even Debussy, an intense melodic impulse, holding great émotions, and all of that served by a magistral use of any ressources from the instrument. It is a real shame that all that is not more known by the musicians in general and the public .

The few pieces that I do propose here are pieces that I played, some of them, to my knowlege have never been recorded, others are, but are not available anymore since eons, but those recordings being still protected by laws more interested in big firms profit than on making masterpieces being known, I wasn't able to present them here. The original versions are for violin & full orchestra.

the 3 where recorded at a concert lgiven the 12th of mai 1981, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Ysaÿe's death. Rêve d'enfant is extracted from a vinyl, published in 1980 : « À la Belle Époque, Musiques dans un Salon »... I will soon make a reedition of it from the master tape.

The pianiste is Christine Hartley-Troskie


N.B.: Those parts which don't exist anymore in any commercial edition, are today in the public domain, and if everything goes OK , I should manage to do some new publishing of it without to many legal problems, so, I do invite anyone interested by one or the other of those works, (or even by others never published, like the sonata for 2 violins, or the string trios) to contact me, so that eventually I would start with that work, even in urgence...

Neiges d'antan

Chant d'hiver


Rêve d'enfant

Guillaume Lekeu.(1870-1894)

He only made a a brief appearance into the musical world (and into the world in general), and, if one still knows him in Belgiun, his homeland, he is totally ignored, or almost totally in France the contry where he spent his last 5 or 6 years... the quart of his life !...

Indeed, he died in Angers, in 1894, aged 24 ans, from a typhoïd fiever.

Though, in only few years, he managed to leave a certain amount of masterpieces... A piano trio, melodies for soprano, a sublime Adagio for a string quartet solo and string orchestra, a sonata for Cello & piano, one for piano, one for violin & piano among others, and that extraordinary piano quartet that he wasn't able to finish, and so leaving the audience stopping to breathe at the end of the slow movement!… but what music, and of such deepness !…one forgets he was still just a kid about !

The music from Lekeu, like the one of Franck, suffer from the fact that his phrases, even if constructed on smal formulas, are very long, and of a structure not that easy to perceived by the player not much accointed to that music… of course those phrases become then more difficult to perceive by the audience (try to read to someone a sentence a bit long, in adding comas and pauses at the wrong places, in accentuating the wrong words, and see the result for your self)… but, if the interpreters respect the proper structures of those phrases, the ones that Lekeu wanted, and if then, they don't let the sound fall at every end of every bar, then, everything becomes very clear, and the auditor, instead of being bored, lets himself being overwhelmed by the flow of the melody, and by the emotion of which it is heavily charged (for instance that slow movement of that sonata for vln & pno), since Lekeu's music is rarely gay and happy, but dark, even pathetic…

In the future, I'll probably put on here one recording of the unfinished quartet, but only after lot of cleaning up, since the cassette is rather damaged.

For the moment, I've found a work-recording made in 1976 as a last verification before a broadcast… and since its going OK and since I have nothing to reproach to it, I am presenting it to you here.


The pianist is : Christine Hartley-Troskie.

Sonata for violin & piano

Paolo Litta (1871-1931)

Totally unknown today, even from the encyclopaedias which however mention many names, and not always the bests... Paolo Litta was born in Stockholm (7th of May 1871) from an Italian father (Balserino Litta) his mother being Dorotea Carolus, probably swedish.

He married Amelia Rosi (3d of Novembre 1900), but from whom he divorced the 6 of Septembre 1915. From 1916, he lived few years with Rosa Argia Casella, an Italian being French teacher, and finally get married again (5th of November 1928 in Fiesole), with Vera Elena Schirnlin, born in Berlin the 30th of april 1907... all those data, gotten here and there from diverse municipalities, not intended to make a revue of Litta's amorous life, but to show him as having been more Europeen than Italian, Swedish,German, French, or Belgian.

He seems to have spent a certain amount of time in Belgium though, but there are traces of his passage also in Paris and Germany.

It seems However that he sort of stabilized at Fiesole since the 12th of December 1921, until his death the 8 of May 1931 (just one day past his 60th birthday), from a lever cancer.

He probably is the creator in Florence of an Musical Edition house : "La Libera Estetica", whose name is surely not completely foreing to : « La libre esthétique », association from Bruxelles very close to the avant guard music from around 1900 : the Franco-Belgian school, all the César Franck's pupils, etc., and from what Ysaÿe was one of the strong engines.

It is totally by chance that I discovered, in a second hand music shop in Paris, one work of Litta called : "La Déesse Nue", "Te Nude Godess", esotheric poem for a danser, piano, violin and triangle (ad libitum). and that just on sight I recognized to be a great piece

The part was dedicated in pencil : "Alla gentissima signorina Tatiana Donskaïa", and dated from Paris, Maio 1912. Of course she probably was the dancer, probably the one having created it that year, and more, on the look of her name, I don't think to advance myself to much in guessing that she was one of the dancers from the Nijinski's Russian Ballet, since they where here at the time (the Stavinski's Rite of the spring had his memorable première just the year after).


Here is the list of the works that I could trace :

Le lac d'amour, poème in 4 parts (after Georges Rodenbach poems : Bruges la morte), for piano & violon.

La Déesse nue, poème ésothérique pour une danseuse, piano, violon, & triangle ad libitum.

Le ménétrier, la Mort, a Middle-aged rhapsodic fresco for piano, violin and a dancer girl ad libitum.

those 3 pieces form a trilogythat one can exécue one after the other (about one and an half hour).

Ballade-Ciaccona, for solo-violin

Allah' o' Abha, for Barytone, violin, piano, timpany, cymbals, tambourin, triangle, and dance ad libitum. an Ode in Persian in the honnor of the very high.

Cleopatra's death, for dramatic soprano and orchestra.

Music and dance of a possessed, pathological Ballade for big orchestra.

Andalusia, (the return of don Giovanni) for big orchestra.

Tamariska, The dance of the wind with the sand, concert piece for piano with dance ad libitum.

La sirene, balladefor piano after Ossian.

Three poemes in mélo-drama (récitant and piano) on original poems from Litta.

a) La momie et le papillon

b) La fleur de lotus

c) Le Sphinx

It seems to have been some connexion between Litta and the Franco-Belgian school, and not only by the fact that he seemed to have been oftens in those two contries, and not only because of that name of Libera estetica, but also by the style and spirit of his music, and the way he seems to adopt some of the principles, or ideals dare to Franck, and later to d'Indy (and also borrowed from Wagner!): for instance that principle of "Leit Motiv", that he uses abondantly in "La Déesse Nue" and in "le ménétrier la Mort" going even to the trouble of noting all of those "Leit Motiv" on a whole page, with next to it what they represent (suffering, hope, Psyche, the death, the life, etc…)

His musical writing is always very expressive, and shows a complete and perfect mastery of every aspect of it, would it be the use of harmony, which is very rich, of counterpoint, the use of the instruments, to the maximum of their possibilities, but always in a total knowlege of them, I mean without brutalizing them… in short, he shows himself to us as being a real master.

Actually, when My wife and me did play those pieces in public (La Déesse Nue, Le lac d'amour), always the audience was enthousiastic about them, and finally, that is the best test.

It seems that Litta tried to create a new gender : the choregraphic chamber music.… first because of those parts that he left to us, but also by hes allusions to it.

La Déesse Nue

Henri Woollett. (----/1946?)

When I was a teenager, an aunt gave us (my sister and me) some old music parts that someone gave to her knowing there were musicians in the family. Among those, there was an opera : "Les amants Byzantins" (the Byzantine lovers) from a certain woolett. I tried hard to see what was that music, trying to read it, to play it on the piano (but was no pianist!)… I anyway had the feeling that it would have been worth the trouble to playt it on a stage.

Many years went by, and one day, looking in a second hand music shop, I fell on that sonata for piano and violin from Woolett. Of course, I bought it immediatly, but there was at the time no occasion to play it… many more years went again…

Somewhere in my memory, that name was still kept in a cool corner, but nowhere did I find anything about that composer, his life or his works.

One day in 1993, at a reception after a concert, at le Havre, I still have absolutly no idea why, but having been presented to a Lady from a certain age, one of the first thing I asked her was that abrupt question : "Have you ever heard of a composer called Henri Woolett ?", and my surprise was even bigger than hers when she unswered: "But yes, it was my piano teacher !"

That Lady, a piano teacher herself, was in fact at that time busy organizing in memory of her master, a exhibition-concert, with some of his works, and lot of his aquarelles (he was painting too and did some very beautiful ones), and it was then decided that my wife and me would play that sonata.

I was then able to learn some more about that composer, friend of d'Indy, and also of all the other members from that mouvement created to promote the French music (or Franco-Belgian) since César Franck.… I believe he was also teaching at la Schola cantorum. He was originally English, but was since long time living in France. He died I think shortly after the second world war. Some descendants are still living in the UK, having never had the slightest idea of the quality from their grand-something… (dunno if it was father or uncle), discovered it with surprise, only at the concert.



Sonata piano & violin

Jean-Claude Féret








(Eugène Ysaÿe, Guillaume Lekeu, Paolo Litta, Henri Woollett, George Onslow, Pleyel, Molique, Rode )

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