Guillaume Lekeu was a composer of great talent and showed
much promise for a successful lifelong career in music when he tragically
passed away the day after his twenty-fourth birthday. Despite his brief life,
however, he produced some fifty compositions, though not all were completed.
His oeuvre spanned orchestral, vocal
and chamber music, yet it is his works in the latter genre that are noteworthy
and upon which most of the composer's fame rests today, particularly the Violin
Sonata in G major and the Piano Trio in C minor.
Lekeu was born in Heusy, a village near Verviers, Belgium,
on January 20, 1870. He received some musical instruction from the director of
a local brass band before his parents moved to Poitiers, France in 1879. Music,
initially, was not the boy's strongest subject, but his interest in it grew
while he attended school in Poitiers. He composed his first piece at the age of
fifteen—a set of variations for violin and piano.
His family moved once again in 1888, this time to the French
capital. The following year, Lekeu met César Franck, who took the young man on
as his final music student. Franck became a profound influence on Lekeu,
encouraging him to compose and teaching him the disciplines of counterpoint and
fugue. He also took the young musician to Bayreuth to see the works of Wagner
performed. The experience made an indelible impression on Lekeu and greatly
influenced his melodic craft.
Following Franck's death in 1890, Lekeu was introduced to
Vincent d'Indy. D'Indy continued Lekeu's musical education, teaching him
orchestration, and encouraged him to enter the Brussels Prix de Rome. Lekeu
took second place in 1891 with his cantata Andromède.
The following year, he met the eminent violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. Ysaÿe, who had
performed the violin sonatas of Franck, Saint-Saëns, and Fauré, commissioned a
sonata from Lekeu.
In the summer of 1894, Lekeu contracted typhoid fever from a
dessert made with contaminated water. On January 21, the day after his
twenty-fourth birthday, he succumbed to the illness. He was buried in his
hometown five days later.
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