(20 January 1870 – 21 January 1894) was a Belgian composer

In June 1888, his family moved to Paris where he began to study philosophy. He was introduced to the works of Téodor de Wyzewa and continued his studies under Gaston Vallin. In August 1889, he traveled to Bayreuth to see the operas of Richard Wagner. On his return, he studied counterpoint and fugue privately with César Franck. Franck encouraged him to continue composing; after Franck’s death in the autumn of 1890, Wyzewa introduced him to Vincent d’Indy, who taught him orchestration and encouraged him to compete for the Prix de Rome, awarded in Brussels. In 1891, he won second prize in the competition for the cantata Andromède.

In 1892, d’Indy introduced Lekeu to Octave Maus, then secretary of Brussels-based Le Cercle des XX. Eugène Ysaÿe commissioned a work from him, the Violin Sonata in G major, which premiered in March 1893, and is “his most famous and oft-recorded work”.

Lekeu contracted typhoid fever from a contaminated sorbet in October 1893. He died in his parents’ home in Angers on 21 January 1894, the day after his 24th birthday. On 26 January 1894, he was buried in a small cemetery in Heusy.

Lekeu’s personal style was present in his earliest compositions. In 1887, he said “Bien plus, ce sera bizarre, détraqué, horrible, tout ce qu’on voudra; mais, du moins, ce sera original”[5] (“Even more, it will be weird, mad, horrible, anything you like, but at least it will be original”).

Lekeu’s string quartets were inspired by Beethoven, and exposure to Wagner’s operas at Bayreuth influenced his approaches to melody. He described this as “des mélodies de telle longueur qu’un seul exposé suffisait à parfaire … un morceau de musique” (“melodies of such length that a single presentation was sufficient to complete … a piece of music”).

His primary influence was Franck. Many of his works are characterized by a certain melancholy: in his own words, “la joie [est] mille fois plus difficile à peindre que la souffrance” (“joy is a thousand times harder to paint than suffering”).

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