Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931), the Belgian violinist, conductor and composer, was born in Liège. He studied with the Polish violinist Henri Wieniawski and the Belgian violinist Henri Vieuxtemps.
Ysaÿe was concertmaster of a Berlin orchestra and later toured widely. From 1886 to 1898 he was professor at the Conservatory of Brussels, where he organized the celebrated Ysaýe Quartet.
In 1894 he established the Ysaÿe Concert Society in Brussels. From 1918 to 1922 he was conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. His compositions include sonatas, concertos, and other works for violin. The annual Ysaÿe International Violin Contest was inaugurated by the Belgian crown in 1937.
An international violin competition in Brussels was created in his memory: in 1951, this became the violin section of the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition.
As a performer, Ysaÿe was compelling and highly original. Pablo Casals claimed never to have heard a violinist play in tune before Ysaÿe, and Carl Flesch called him "the most outstanding and individual violinist I have ever heard in my life."
Ysaÿe was the possessor of a large and flexible tone, influenced by a considerable variety of vibrato — from no vibrato at all to very intense. He said, "Don't always vibrate, but always be vibrating". His modus operandi was, in his own words: "Nothing which wouldn't have for goal emotion, poesy, heart."
Possibly the most distinctive feature of Ysaÿe's interpretations was his masterful rubato. Ysaÿe's rubato is something apart; "Whenever he stole time from one note, he faithfully paid it back within four bars," said the conductor Sir Henry Wood, allowing his accompanist to maintain strict tempo under his free cantilena. This kind of rubato fits the description of Frédéric Chopin's rubato.
Although Ysaÿe was a great interpreter of late Romantics and early modern composers — Max Bruch, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Cesar Franck, who said he was their greatest interpreter — he was admired for his Bach and Beethoven interpretations. His technique was brilliant and finely honed, and in this respect he is the first modern violinist, whose technique was without the shortcomings of some earlier artists.