Poster Hilary Hahn
Hilary Hahn recorded all six violin sonatas by Belgian violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe.
OJ Slaughter
New Classical Tracks®

Hilary Hahn explores her heritage with violin works by Belgian composer Eugene Ysaye

New Classical Tracks (Extended Interview) - Hilary Hahn

Hilary Hahn - Eugène Ysaÿe: Six Sonatas for Violin (Deutsche Grammophon)

New Classical Tracks - Hilary Hahn
New Classical Tracks - July 12, 2023

“This was my grand homage. And I really put so much love and time and energy and respect into the recording,” violinist Hilary Hahn says. “I really wanted to focus on that aspect, almost like giving a gift to a relative on their birthday. This is my gift to my musical grandfather on his hundredth birthday.”

Hahn is talking about her new recording featuring the violin sonatas of Belgian violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe. He composed these masterpieces 100 years ago this month. Each one was dedicated to a top violinist of the day.

“I am one generation removed from him musically. He was born in the 1850s. I was born in 1979, but my teacher was born in 1907 and studied with him. So there was something about listening to him, listening to the early recordings of his I when I hadn't heard them for a while, that was very surprising for me.

“I have spent most of my career trying to get closer to my own way of playing, my own sense of expression and my own sense of freedom within the instrument. And I realized that instead of getting closer to myself as an individual, I've gotten closer to myself as part of a long history. Because when I heard Ysaÿe, it was like opening a box in your grandparents attic and looking at a photo of an ancestor. But it is also like looking in the mirror, because they might be wearing different clothing but there's something about them that's just like you.

“While listening to his recordings, I realized there is musical DNA. Somehow, deep in my soul, I have internalized a set of values in my playing that I must have inherited.

“Ysaÿe also wanted to lift up some incredible violinists of his day, and he dedicated these sonatas to several of those. I don't know if it's obvious to the listener or the performer, but the deeper you get into the pieces, the more you realize it's customized for different players. The feeling of playing the instrument is different in each piece, and it's a bit of an insight into what it must have felt like to be that person. Also, there are lots of hidden messages in these pieces that were never written down in the music. So it's kind of a little game of Clue.

“A very good example of that is the beginning of the Sonata No. 2, Obsession, which was dedicated to a violinist who played fast but also practiced in a very fragmented way. So he would kind of start with one thing and quickly work on a phrase of something else and go back to the other thing. A sort of free-flowing mentality is in practice that Ysaÿe brings that into his writing for that particular violinist.”

You said listening back to yourself playing these pieces gave you goose bumps. What were you hearing that caused that?

I think the most goose bumpy thing for me was just listening to Ysaÿe’s own playing and then getting as close as I wanted to these pieces in a total immersion studio situation. Listening to the playback and drawing these connections back to the past, but also knowing that what I do now is very much geared toward the future. And so that feeling of inheriting this sense of mission, of passing things on from the past to the future generations.”

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.


Hilary Hahn - Eugène Ysaÿe: Six Sonatas for Violin (Deutsche Grammophon)

Hilary Hahn - Eugène Ysaÿe: Six Sonatas for Violin (Amazon)

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