HILARY HAHN’S RECORDING OF EUGÈNE YSAŸE’S SIX SONATAS FOR SOLO VIOLIN OUT NOW
“The sounds you hear aren’t just the product of the notes on the page, but of a centuries-long artistic lineage that has led me to this moment in time—me, standing on my own two feet with just my two hands, a violin, a bow, and four strings.”
“An artist of intense virtuosity meets repertoire which pushes the violin to its communicative limits: Hilary Hahn’s album of Ysaÿe sonatas is an extraordinary achievement.”
Gramophone Magazine | Recording of the Month
Listen to the album here
Hilary Hahn will be hosting an album Listening Party on Saturday 15th July at 1 pm EST
14 JULY 2023 (TORONTO, ON) — Three-time GRAMMY® Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn's latest album, a recording of Eugène Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for Violin Solo, op. 27, is out today on Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Canada. Composed beginning in 1923, these six sonatas are among the supreme feats of technical and musical virtuosity in the violin repertoire. Hahn’s interpretations, recorded last fall in the lead-up to this year’s centenary, see her come full circle as a direct musical descendant of Ysaÿe himself. Ysaÿe: Six Sonatas for Violin Solo is available on CD, a 2-LP gatefold vinyl edition, and in digital formats including a Dolby Atmos version; a virtual listening party including live Q&A with Hahn will take place tomorrow beginning at 1 PM ET.
“Just as Eugène Ysaÿe was inspired by Bach to write these six sonatas—and in doing so set a crucial milestone in the evolution of the violin—so too am I inspired by Ysaÿe to continually grow as an artist, to pour all of myself into this music and to commit myself fully to the pieces appearing on this recording,” says Hahn. “The sounds you hear aren’t just the product of the notes on the page, but of a centuries-long artistic lineage that has led me to this moment in time—me, standing on my own two feet with just my two hands, a violin, a bow, and four strings.”
A gifted violinist, conductor, and composer, Eugène Ysaÿe is widely considered to be the first modern violinist. As a performer, he embraced and defined the techniques of his day, revolutionizing the ways in which technical prowess and expressiveness could enhance one another without compromise; his command of rubato alone put him leaps and bounds ahead of other violinists of his time. A champion of new music, Ysaÿe received dedications from luminaries such as Franck, Debussy, Saint-Saëns, and Chausson. He was also an in-demand interpreter of repertoire works, breathing new life into pieces from the Classical and Early-Romantic era.
As a composer, he codified his techniques into the canon of violin repertoire, setting technical and artistic standards for his instrument that still stand as benchmarks today. Inspired by the example set by J.S. Bach—whose solo violin repertoire and the arsenal of techniques required of it transformed the instrument forever—Ysaÿe wrote the first work in what turned out to be a six-sonata cycle in June 1923. Ysaÿe’s sonatas are emblematic of the changes in performance and composition he had witnessed in his lifetime, employing contemporary musical language such as six-note chords, whole tone scales and microtones alongside his own virtuosic bowing and left-hand techniques. Together, the pieces function as both a codex documenting Ysaÿe’s tastes and techniques and a revolutionary treatise on violin composition in the 20th century. By dedicating each to a major performer of the day—Joseph Szigeti, Jacques Thibaud, George Enescu, Fritz Kreisler, Mathieu Crickboom, and Manuel Quiroga—he ensured that a new generation of violinists would continue his work. Today, they remain among the supreme tests of a violinist’s technique and artistry. "In these pieces there is an informality and also an exuberance," Hahn told Violinist.com. "The way Ysaÿe writes through the expressive freedoms—it's from a very deep knowledge of the instrument. Where other composers hit a roadblock, he sees a path. Or he just bursts right through the wall—as if saying, 'Oh, this is not made of brick, this is made of Styrofoam!'"
Hahn's recording of these pieces—the first-ever to be issued by Deutsche Grammophon — promises to be as era-defining as the compositions themselves. In the weeks leading up to its release, Gramophone named the album its Recording of the Month, writing "An artist of intense virtuosity meets repertoire which pushes the violin to its communicative limits: Hilary Hahn’s album of Ysaÿe sonatas is an extraordinary achievement." In a review for the same magazine, Rob Cowan declared that "Hilary Hahn’s unique qualities—her rich, pulsing tone, her technical mastery, her unabashed confidence, her imagination and her ability to present the music as fresh-minted (she seems to have located a hotline to Ysaÿe’s muse)—incline me towards her recording as the finest currently available."
Hahn’s journey to record these pieces began when, while in Paris last October, she found herself at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Having studied with one of Ysaÿe’s pupils, Hahn had long been familiar with his works; while they could never physically meet, she imagined herself and Ysaÿe walking the same paths and playing on the same stages, separated only by history. The myth that he had written his six violin sonatas in an unfeasibly short amount of time came to mind and she began to investigate, discovering that he had sketched most of the works by late July 1923. Determined to commemorate both the fast-approaching centenary and her artistic lineage, Hahn decided to record all six sonatas.
Before committing to the recording sessions, Hahn sight-read the complete score. Though she hadn’t performed the pieces publicly in years, she discovered that she felt entirely at ease with the sonatas, as if their music had matured within her since she last played them. With Deutsche Grammophon and Hahn’s co-producer Antonio Oliart on board, the first session took place on 1 November. The violinist made time to listen to recordings of Ysaÿe’s playing, made shortly before the First World War. “I was transported, shocked in the best way. It felt like rummaging around in your grandparents’ attic, opening a box of family photos, and seeing your own face gazing at you from the image of an ancestor. Ysaÿe’s sense of gesture and timing felt like the blueprint for what I’ve been working so hard to develop independently and intuitively in my own playing in the past decade. I didn’t realize my artistic process was returning me to my roots. DNA is strong – even symbolic musical DNA.” Hahn recorded all six sonatas in chronological order. “In playbacks, I was struck by how surprising my own playing sounded to me. The goosebumps told me I was headed in the right direction. These sonatas are truly hypnotic, and when we’d wrap for the day, I’d step into the winter air in a haze, my brain reharmonized by the tonalities that had vibrated through my jawbone: a sound bath if ever there was one.”