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Lekeu, Guillaume (1870-1894)

Guillaume Lekeu

born: 20 January 1870
died: 21 January 1894
country: Belgium

At the start of the 1890s, French composers were largely divided into two groups: Conservatoire students who looked to Massenet as their guiding star; and the so-called ‘bande à Franck’ who followed the Belgian master—indeed ‘worshipped’ would not be too strong a word. The music historian Martin Cooper, in his classic account of the period, described Franck’s world as one ‘of tremulous emotion, in which the nobility and purity of master and disciples seems to have been permanently—and one cannot help feeling, rather self-consciously—in evidence’.

Guillaume Lekeu (1870–1894) was among the last arrivals in the bande. After lessons in his home city of Verviers in Belgium, he and his family moved to Poitiers and there, at the age of fifteen, he composed his first piece. They moved again to Paris in 1888, when Guillaume joined the bande. Between then and his death from typhoid, after drinking contaminated water, he wrote some fifty pieces, of which the Violin Sonata of 1892–3 is by far the best known.

from notes by Roger Nichols © 2011

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