An Extraordinary Private Concert


It was a private performance by one of Europe’s great violinists. Unfortunately, Eugene Ysayë wasn’t playing the piece as it was written and his young visitor dared to tell him so.

In the early years of the 20th century the young violinist Arthur Hartmann and a friend visited Ysayë in his hotel room. The celebrity was wearing a voluminous dressing gown, smoking his pipe and fiddling fervently. Ysayë was brushing up on Lalo’s Concerto in F for an upcoming concert in Glasgow. Hartmann was thrilled because he knew the concerto well although he had never heard it played.

Ysayë dazzled his young visitor with the beauty of his tone and his graceful bowing. But gradually Hartmann realized that Ysayë was playing “scarcely two consecutive measures as they had been written.”

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After awhile, Ysayë lowered his violin, winked, and asked, “Well, piggy, not bad, huh?” When Hartmann hesitated, Ysaye laughed. “So say something. It went well, didn’t it? What do you think?”

Hartmann blurted out that it was marvelous but not quite accurate. Ysayë roared like a wounded bull, put down his violin and his pipe and grabbed at his long hair.

Hartmann mustered his best French in an effort to apologize but the virtuoso wasn’t hearing him. He insisted that Hartmann play the concerto for him.

Hartmann begged to be forgiven, to be allowed to run from the room, but swearing and thrusting the violin and bow at him, Ysayë demanded that he play the concerto. He sat down, straddling a chair and smoking his pipe as the nervous Hartmann began to play.

When Hartmann came to the passage in question, the great Ysayë put up his hand and told him to play it again more slowly. At the end of the first movement, after more repetitions, he turned to Hartmann’s friend and said, “Eh bien, he is right. I’ve got to look through the score a bit after lunch.”

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