Guillaume Lekeu

Guillaume Lekeu


• 1870 1894


Guillaume Lekeu, Belgian composer of the late nineteenth century, was born near the small town of Verviers. His father, a wool merchant, sent the young Guillaume to a school in Poiters, where the boy excelled in all subjects except religion and music. However, a few years later he began to take an interest in music, and at the age of 15 he published his Op. 1, an Andante et Variations for violin and piano. Traveling to Paris with his family, he was able to meet César Franck in 1889, who adopted Lekeu as his final pupil in music. Franck was incredibly impressed with the boy, and took Lekeu to Bayreuth for a Wagner festival, where Lekeu was spellbound and forever changed by the experience. After Franck's death, Lekeu put his short time of instruction to immediate use by composing chamber works and a few symphonic pieces. In 1891 he was able to secure second place in the Prix de Rome with his cantata Androméde. The following year he made contact with Eugène Ysaÿe, who commissioned works from such composers as Franck, Saint-Saëns, Ravel, and Debussy. Ysaÿe asked Lekeu if he had composed any chamber music, to which the surprising response was in the negative. Despite this answer, Ysaÿe commissioned from Lekeu two works: a piano quartet and a sonata for piano and violin. In October 1893, Lekeu dined at a restaurant and ate a dessert which contained contaminated water. He and his friends all took ill, but while the others recovered, Lekeu's health continued to worsen. On the day after his 24th birthday Guillaume Lekeu passed away.

The vast majority of Lekeu's music was written between 1891 and 1894. His more famous pieces include an adagio for string orchestra, a trio for piano/violin/cello, the Fantaisie sur deux airs populaires angevins, Trois Poèmes, and his most popular work, the famous Sonata for Violin and Piano. Many speculate that, had he only lived longer, Lekeu would have been without a doubt at the forefront of the music of the twentieth century. Only his untimely demise kept him from being able to make the most of his gifts.