questions about markings for Ysaye Solo sonatas

January 19, 2007 at 09:43 PM · questions about markings for Ysaye Solo sonatas (Schirmer edition)

what do 2 or 3 horizontal bars under the note mean? (i think it means to be played in higher position on the lower string.)

also, what does the symbol for greek letter phi mean under a note?

thanks in advance for your help.

Replies (26)

January 19, 2007 at 10:06 PM · Single line means E string, two means A, etc.

I'm not 100% sure about the phi, but if I recall correctly it means that you keep a finger pressed down. I could be wrong though.

January 20, 2007 at 06:52 PM · I think that the "phi" marking means that you play the marked note but let the other note in the double stop drop out (in Ysaye's list of symbols it says "note jouee isolement", or "note played alone.")

January 21, 2007 at 05:03 AM · Jim:

Thank you for your questions on the Ysaÿe Sonatas and their markings. Your questions can be answered by looking in the key in the front of your edition "Signs & Abbreviations" (something many violinists pass over, perhaps because the Schirmer edition still has this key written in French!)

To answer your first question, the lines under or above a note are as follows:

one line (-) is the standard tenuto marking OR, in theory, to play that specific note on the E-string (although I don't believe Ysaÿe ever asks for this in these sonatas)

two lines (=) means to play that specific note on the A-string

three lines means to play that specific note on the D-string

you will never see four lines for the G-string because Ysaÿe chose to denote this with a "4" inside a circle.

NOTE: If you purchase the Henle edition, many of the errors that appear in the Schirmer have been corrected (not all, however). In addition, the unconventional markings that we are discussing have been "updated" to reflect modern notation--a wise decision made by the editors at Henle.

One of the markings that DOES appear in both editions is the "Phi" symbol, as you called it. This oval with a vertical line through it tells the player to "isolate" THAT note (i.e., play it by itself) even though other notes may be tied over, creating a double-stop. Ysaÿe is, in a sense, letting the player "off the hook" and is NOT requiring a double-stop (or triple) to be sounded. In some cases, the notes are actually impossible to play at the same time, which is why Ysaÿe created the marking.

Please feel free to ask about any markings that you may still have questions about. I just finished a dissertation on these sonatas and spoke specifically about Ysaÿe's unique markings.

By the way, be SURE to follow ALL his markings as they are truly part of the music and contribute specifically to the WAY in which these sonatas are to be played.



January 21, 2007 at 07:48 AM · I never really understood Ysaye. Probably because I could never play any of it.

January 21, 2007 at 07:36 AM · Thanks a lot for the help everyone. i just noticed the glossary in front of the Schirmer edition. I don't know French but i can figure out the rough meanings.

Peter, i do have a few more questions. Regarding the "phi", are you saying that isolating the note is optional? because many times it occurs on a double stop that is easily playable.

also, i just noticed that in the Sarabande of Sonata 4, the notes that appear "miniaturized" are repeated throughout the movement like a passacaglia. this is such a fun sonata to play. and the most Bach-like of the sonatas (apart from the direct quotations from E major partita in sonata 2) IMO. Can you tell me more about the history of this Fourth Sonata? What does it say about Kreisler? (Kreisler i think refers to Ysaye in his Scherzo-recitativo.) i guess i ought to make clear that i'm not asking you to regurgitate your dissertation. any shorter answer would be much appreciated.

January 21, 2007 at 05:34 PM · Jim:

Again, GREAT questions and I'm glad you're asking because I think a lot of fiddle players out there have them, so this forum is perfect for clearing up some of the misconceptions or simply answering the tougher questions regarding these important sonatas! Not to worry, I won't go crazy printing large excerpts from my dissertation or anything. Shorter is always better! Okay, here goes:

Regarding the "Phi" symbol: You are absolutely correct in your observation that often Ysaÿe makes this marking where the double-stop is easily played. The short answer is that I still believe--in most cases--it is best to follow exactly what Ysaÿe gives us in terms of direction (i.e., the markings would not be optional). Remember that he is giving a sort of nod to Bach and is writing out certain durations of notes, EVEN knowing that the performance practice (Baroque) would be to release the sound on these otherwise "held" notes. That said, there are some of these markings that have been determined to be misprints also, so please ask about specific spots so I can give you a clearer answer in context. As far as markings being "optional," of course there is the statement Ysaÿe makes at the bottom of the "Signs and Abbreviations" page letting the player know that these matters are still the choice of the player; however, the implication and my belief is that he really expected his markings to be followed. I truly believe they are inseperable from the music, particularly from an historical perspective. Here's my translation of the direction Ysaÿe gives:

“Without debating that the techniques herein are an individual matter, it can be stated with confidence that the artist who follows closely the fingerings, bowings, nuances and other instructions of the composer will always reach his [or her] goal more quickly.” -E.Y.

SONATA No. 4 (Sarabande): This is a GREAT sonata and a good story as well. First, let's address those little notes. If you look carefully, you will see that the four note motif "G-F#-E-A" appears in EVERY measure of the movement, without exception. Although the music does not indicate this (Schirmer), a letter from Ysaÿe to Kreisler that surfaced many years after printing revealed that Ysaÿe wanted this motif played (pizzicato) for TWO measures prior to the first printed measure--so as to establish the motif that will be heard throughout the rest of the movement.

The letter is translated as follows--(note to Fritz Kreisler): "It would plese me if you would begin the 2nd part (2nd movement) as follows: [handwritten staff & notes of 2 measures of the main motif as well as the first beat of measure #1 of the printed music] . . . as for the rest you may make whatever changes you please. -E.Y."

The concluding phrase stating "whatever changes you please" refers to a letter Kreisler had first written to Ysaÿe in which he stated concerns about the playability of the 4th Sonata. Apparently, Kreisler was having a bit of trouble playing certain passages and wondered if he could rewrite them for "his hands." Ysaÿe, as seen in his note, gives his blessing for such changes, although we have no record of what those changes may have been as Kreisler's copy has yet to be found.

Yes, Kreisler dedicated his "Recitative & Scherzo" to Ysaÿe and there are clear references to Ysaÿe's style of composing and playing. Ysaÿe actually quotes Kreisler's "Praeludium & Allegro" in the final movement of his 4th Solo Sonata.

By the way, the Schirmer has a definite misprint with regard to the LAST NOTE (left hand pizz.) of the 2nd movement (4th sonata). The note should be an "open" A, NOT a D. This was a correction made BY Ysaÿe, found in his PERSONAL copy of the first edition. Again, the Henle edition is good with most of these corrections.

Finally, I know you didn't want me to reprint my dissertation here, but there's a great story regarding the 4th sonata that I'll pull from my document . . . the 4th sonata was the last piece of music Ysaÿe heard before he died:


"The last performance of an Ysaÿe Sonata made in the presence of the great master took place while he lay on his deathbed. Philip Newman, who longed to study with Ysaÿe, traveled to the master’s home to humbly request a lesson only to be turned away due to Ysaÿe’s failing health. When Ysaÿe’s son, Antoine saw the disappointment in Newman’s face, he offered to allow the young violinist to play on the landing just outside Ysaÿe’s bedroom. Newman chose to perform Ysaÿe’s 4th Solo Sonata (“The Kreisler”). When Newman finished, Ysaÿe apparently spoke from his bed, “Splendid…the finale just a little too fast.” Ysaÿe passed away a few hours later. Fortunately, a wonderful recording of Philip Newman was made in 1967 during a live performance of the Allemande (1st) movement of the 4th Sonata. It, too, is a wonderful archive of an older style of playing that could be considered a link to Ysaÿe himself."


Keep those questions coming . . . and get the Henle edition!



January 21, 2007 at 07:53 PM · thanks so much Peter.

I thought so about the 3rd movement and its reference to Kreisler's allegro.

i'm still learning 4, and bits of 3 and 6 (sort of in the order of difficulty or work:reward ratio as i gauge it.) knowing this history makes playing/practicing these pieces all the more enjoyable.

any chance your full dissertation will be available to the public?

Anyway, i would just like to state for the record that your input is a prime example of what makes this site so great. I was beginning to think otherwise reading some of the other recent threads.

January 22, 2007 at 12:11 AM · Jim,

Thanks for your kind words.

I'll keep the info coming as long as there are questions.

Ysaÿe has been a passion and labor-of-love for some time now. There is a fabulous dissertation by Ray Iwazumi.

I am in the process of preparing excerpts of my dissertation for magazine publication. Hopefully STRINGS or THE STRAD will be willing to publish.

All the best,


January 30, 2007 at 10:12 PM · Is there more to know about the composition of the 4th sonata than the bit about Kreisler? I'm learning it and having a treacherous time attempting to research it!

January 31, 2007 at 09:00 PM · Heather,

What would you like to know specifically about the 4th Sonata? I'm happy to help with greater info! In the meantime, I'll gather my dissertation notes on the 4th and come up with a general overview.



February 14, 2007 at 06:19 AM · I guess just anything and everything... I found the History of the Six Sonatas in my library, but there is very little about the actual music. Any interesting facts or insights would be great. Thanks!

February 15, 2007 at 01:35 PM · Hi,

Heather, I will Email you info. That book is interesting in that it contains notes about the historical context of each piece.


March 11, 2007 at 08:48 AM · how does one break up the 6-note chord in the first (giant) measure of Sonata No. 3? BTW the 3rd is even more fun than the 4th! ysaye is keeping me happy while my search for quartet partners continues in vain.

March 12, 2007 at 05:31 AM · Jim,

Great question--one that I address in my lecture on Ysaÿe!

This six-note chord is what I like to refer to as Ysaÿe's "superchords." Conventional wisdom would suggest that since a violin only has four strings, the maximum number of notes to be played in a chord would be 4. However, Ysaÿe has ingeniusly created these "superchords" that create the illusion of a violin with 5 or even 6 strings!

Here's the execution on THAT particular chord in the Ballad:

If you will note the bracket on the LEFT side of the chord, this indicates that the first notes to be played are the low (open) G with the B-flat in the middle of the staff--on the D-string, fingered with a 3 (as a double-stop with G); then cover the fifth of the low C with the G above it using the first finger; and finally, without a noticable "break" in the chord, one should "roll" into the upper two notes (E-natural & high D-flat, fingered 2-3, respectively).

In summary, the only "broken" element to the chord should be that of the LEFT bracketed notes to the RIGHT bracketed notes. Finally, try to practice this in one fluid down-bow stroke with as little break as possible. This final element of the execution is notated by the vertical squiggled line to the left of the chord.

Best of luck!


March 3, 2010 at 01:01 PM ·

How would you go about bar 67 in the 3rd sonata?  (I think I've counted the bars correctly - I mean the ff bar which is 6 before the poco meno e grazioso, the bar with all the 10ths in it).

My specific issue is the 10th between Bb and D - the penultimate notes of the bar.  I'm tempted to keep the whole bar on the A and E strings, but that is a big stretch!  To prep for this I would continue the pattern of descending to a 3rd and 2nd finger for the D B natural two notes earlier, rather than the 2nd and 1st that Ysaye specifies.  Which makes me think that Ysaye had something else in mind?  Any ideas?

Also, in the 5th bar of Allo in Tempo giusto, he marks 2 and 5 bracketed for the A at the start of the bar.  I guess he means that you place the second finger on A on the E string and also on D on the A string, so it is ready for the D 3 notes later.  Is this what is meant by la quinte juste in the preface?

By the way, looking at Peter's long reply of 21 Jan, Ysaye does note a single line to mean E string in the 3rd sonata.  It's in the 3rd bar before the Piu Mosso.  I agree that G string is given by a 4 in a circle and can't see anywhere where he uses 4 lines.

Looking forward to replies,




July 15, 2012 at 06:09 PM · I am curious about a kind of marking I see on the 3rd sonata(Schott edition 1952). On measure 25 marked: -2-, in the beginning of the measure, as well as -3-, above the bar line into next measure. Simliar markings appear again on measure 114, the -4-, and measure 120, the -3-. I wonder if anybody can provide me an answer?

July 15, 2012 at 08:19 PM · Hi,

If the number are represented by lines one of top of each other, it means that the note(s) are to be played on the string with that number of lines. Example, at the Molto moderato quasi lento, where that first big double-stop shift is to be played on the D and and A strings, here the number of lines referring the the note on the lower string.

If the number is circled followed by a dotted line, then it means that the passage is to be played staying on that string until otherwise indicated. This happens a few times in the slow introduction of this sonata.

Elsewhere, we do find numbers outlined (example -2- or -3-) This refers to brief exceptions to the meter. The Allegro is in 3/8, but sometimes, an exceptional bar is in 2 or 4 (example the Più mosso).

Hope one of these things answers your question.


January 14, 2015 at 10:53 PM · I can help those who seek insight into the solo sonatas of Eugène Ysaÿe: my teacher, Maurice Solway, was a pupil of the Master from 1926-28, so I was fortunate to be able to study virtually all of Ysaÿe's music with this man. He played the world première of the fourth sonata in Brussels. Also I have quite a few "last minute" changes which Ysaÿe made in several of the sonatas and which have never been published.

January 15, 2015 at 07:17 PM · Care to share them with us? You know us violinists MUST play the authentic version. :)

January 29, 2015 at 10:25 AM · Sure, happy to help--pencils ready?

#3 Ballade: Ysaÿe started mezzo forte; piu mosso near the end not too fast.

#4 Allemande: start at the frog

Sarabande: the theme from the first two bars(little notes) should played forte as an intro;chords non-arpeggiated and no rubato;

Finale: second bar, seventh sixteenth should be E;four bars before piu animato should be on the string, like the next bar;penultimate bar, fourth eighth note should be B, G#(on top).

#5: Danse Rustique: Ysaÿe played second and third beats at the point, next two at the frog; six bars before Tempo primo(non piu presto)--this bar should be repeated.


January 29, 2015 at 12:07 PM · Hi David,

I knew about the 4th sonata things, but not the dynamic in #3 and bowing distribution in #5. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing!


January 30, 2015 at 01:59 PM · In 1978, Josef Gingold told a group of student (myself included) this funny story about the Ballade:

As Ysaye was in the process of retiring from performing these pieces publicly, for a time he asked his young student (Mr. Gingold---whose name he pronounced "Jangold") to perform them in public when there was a request.

Once, Mr. Gingold was to perform the Ballade after a banquet in a large and intricate building. Shortly before dinner ended, someone came to the table and escorted him to a room to warm up for the performance. It was a good distance away from the other guests, and was at the end of several maze-like hallways.

Well, as he began to warm up---he couldn't seem to remember the first note of the Ballade. He could start a couple measures in-- or anywhere else-- but for some reason drew a blank on the very beginning. Becoming concerned, he found his way back through the maze to Ysaye, who was still sitting at the table. He explained the problem and asked for his assistance. Ysaye waved him away saying: "Go back and practice---you'll remember." So he did. But he didn't remember.

In near panic because the performance was minutes away, he returned to Ysaye and BEGGED him: "PLEASE, Master-- won't you help me?" Ysaye looked at him and gruffly said: "Must I do everything myself!?" So together--they wound through the maze of hallways, finally reaching the warm-up room. Ysaye snatched the violin and began to play. He played something completely fresh and amazing-- Mr. Gingold didn't recognize it. Ysaye continued to improvise until it became recognizable as the Ballade--- but obviously---he had himself forgotten the exact beginning to the piece, and was creating all sorts of new and improvised beginnings to it!

In the tension of the moment--- young Mr. Gingold found the moment to be funny--- and began to giggle. Ysaye looked at him (storm clouds gathering on his face)... but the laughter had broken the tension and Mr. Gingold suddenly remembered the opening--- and all was well! :-)

I later studied the 2nd and 4th sonatas with him --and treasure the memories of that time and what he passed on to me from the distant past. Such a great man...

January 31, 2015 at 05:50 AM · Maestro Russel - most Gingold students tell that story quite differently, and since Ysayes health was so bad in 1928 I am inclined to go with those stories. So personally I am quite sure that Gingold embellished that story for you all at that time :)

January 31, 2015 at 01:33 PM · Really? I would love to hear the version he told you and the other students! I told it exactly how he told it (it was a discussion about memory lapses), so it would be amusing to compare the differences in how he told it! :-)

February 1, 2015 at 05:50 AM · I have never met Gingold :) But here are


and Graffin:

Both stories are very similiar to the one Gingold told you guys, but with the difference that they omit that part about Ysaye playing. Which is logical since Ysay had stopped playing himself because of his diabetes.

February 1, 2015 at 01:26 PM · I should clarify that Mr. Gingold prefaced the story by saying that he was asked to perform the sonatas in Ysaye's place whenever requests came in for them to be performed--- because Ysaye had decided to no longer perform PUBLICLY due to illness. Apparently, he was still teaching, and as the accounts you posted above indicate, had "recently" composed the sonatas. Ysaye might have decided by that time to retire from public performance, but he still played the violin and could demonstrate for students in a lesson.

In his telling of the story, he made great self-effacing fun of the fact that he didn't really intend to giggle when Ysaye couldn't remember how his own composition began--- it just happened to his own surprise (and horror!) But that proved to be the thing that broke the tension that had caused his memory to fail.

His second memory of a time his memory failed (he claimed these two times were the only times he could remember it happening) involved the Lalo 5th movement. He had performed it quite successfully with piano in public and was feeling good about it after the concert. A young colleague came up to him and said: "You know the part--- (he sang the episode that occurs on the "G" string in very typical Spanish rhythm in the middle of the piece)--- you REALLY played that tonight!" Mr. Gingold thought about it and with great shock realized that he had completely skipped it and had forgotten to play it! The pianist was so adept that even Gingold was not aware he had forgotten it until that moment! :-) He told this story (as I recall) in praise of

David Garvey, the incomparable pianist with whom we were privileged to work as students at Meadowmount back in that time. Truly, Mr. Garvey could transform any performance into something wonderful by his artistry--- and this prompted Mr. Gingold's memory of that event.

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