- Born July 16, 1858, in Liège.
- Died May 12, 1931, in Brussels
- Composed in 1895–1900
- First CMS performance on October 26, 2014, by violinist Yura Lee and pianist Anne- Marie McDermott
- Duration: 4 minutes
Eugène Ysaÿe was not showcased as a child prodigy but displayed formidable early talent that earned him the opportunity in his mid-teenage years to study with some of the most renowned violinists in history, including Henryk Wieniawski and Henry Vieuxtemps. A notable episode in his youth was the opportunity to play for the legendary Joseph Joachim, who was a close associate of Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, and many others. After the meeting, Joachim was said to have quipped, “I never heard the violin played like that before,” highlighting Ysaÿe’s already characteristic style featuring a broader vibrato than was typical for the time, and a highly expressive quality of interpretation that some at the time criticized as self-indulgent but posterity would acknowledge as masterful.
Among those who supported his career were fellow performers like Anton Rubenstein, who helped by securing performance opportunities, and composers such as César Franck, whose violin sonata was a wedding present for Ysaÿe, as well as Claude Debussy, whose string quartet was premiered by Ysaÿe’s ensemble. Though Ysaÿe was dedicated to the art of chamber music, his commitments in that discipline would soon give way to increasing concentration on performing as a soloist with a small, alternating group of collaborative pianists, including his brother Theophile, Ferruccio Busoni, and Raoul Pugno. His work as a recitalist allowed him to make a significant impact by programming mostly solo sonatas—an uncommon practice at the time.
Ysaÿe’s innovation extended beyond the kinds of concerts he gave into the broad array of music he composed. In addition to the usual concertos, cadenzas, fantasies, and other showpieces, he also added to the repertoire remarkably ingenious works for solo violin such as the six sonatas, each dedicated to a fellow violinist, that are brilliant for their blend of modern, dissonant sonorities with lingering Romanticism. His oeuvre also includes multiple chamber works, as well as an opera in the Walloon language from near the end of his life.
Over the course of his career Ysaÿe had a long and rich association with musical establishments in United States, which would culminate in his leadership of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra between 1918 and 1922 as its conductor, a role that allowed him to continue making music when injury curtailed his career as a performer. His US debut as a soloist was made some twenty years earlier with the New York Philharmonic, in November of 1894, which was also the year his son Antoine was born. Rêve d’enfant (Child’s Dream) is a lullaby dedicated “À mon p’tit Antoine” (“To my little Antoine”) during Ysaÿe’s years on tour away from his family. As a result, there is a sense of longing permeating the work. It is not a simple, carefree lullaby, but something more complicated. The gently swaying main theme becomes overwhelmed in the middle section with harmonies that continuously evade resolution, conveying emotional unrest. Steadying itself again, the piece returns to the opening theme, wistfully coming to rest.