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Jean Joseph Nicolas Guillaume Lekeu (20 January 1870 – 21 January 1894) was a Belgian composer of classical music.
Lekeu, who was born in Heusy, a village near Verviers, Belgium, took his first lessons in piano and solfeggio from Alphonse Voss, then director of the local brass band at the conservatoire in that city. In 1879, his parents moved to Poitiers, France. There he learned under the influence of his teacher of physics Alexandre Tissier, an amateur musician, the music of Beethoven and Bach. When he finished school, he continued his music studies as an autodidact, composing his first piece at age 15. From 1885 on he wrote regularly, especially for piano, and studied harmony and violin from 1887 under Octave Grisard.
In June 1888, his family settled in Paris and 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 went to Bayreuth to see Wagner's music dramas. On his return, he studied counterpoint and fugue privately with Cesar Franck. Franck encouraged him to continue composing, and they became good friends. 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 Belgian Prix de Rome for his cantata Andromède.
In 1892 d'Indy introduced Lekeu to Octave Maus, then secretary of the Le Cercle des XX. There he conducted several of his works and met the eminent violin virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe, who commissioned a violin sonata from him and premièred it in March 1893; a worthy successor to those of Franck and Fauré, both in A major, the Lekeu G major sonata is still considered his masterpiece.
In the summer of 1894, he fell ill with typhoid fever from a contaminated sorbet and died in Angers, where his parents had lived since 1892, the day after his 24th birthday. He was buried in the small cemetery of Heusy, his home town, on 26 January 1894.
Already in his first compositions, one can clearly recognize his personal style. In 1887 he said "bien plus, ce sera bizarre, détraqué, horrible, tout ce qu'on voudra; mais du moins se sera original" (much more, it will be weird, crazy, horrible, anything you like, but at least it will be original). Lekeu took Beethoven as an example for the composition of his string quartets, and Bayreuth influenced his approach to melody. He called this style "des mélodies de telle longeur qu'un seul exposé suffise à parfaire un morceau de musique" (melodies of such length that a single presentation is sufficient to complete a piece of music). Yet he is most influenced by Franck. He also wrote less somber works, but many of Lekeu's works are characterized by a certain melancholy. As he wrote, "la joie [est] mille fois plus difficile à peindre que la souffrance" (joy is a thousand times harder to paint than suffering). Although Lekeu died at a young age, at a time when his compositional skills were not perfect yet, his music testifies maturity. His contemporaries would have wished him a longer life, especially in the light of his guaranteed success as a composer.
Lekeu composed about 50 works, a number of them tragically incomplete. All have been recorded at least once, and several of them more than once, notably the G major Violin Sonata and the C minor Trio. His style, prophetic of early twentieth-century avant-garde French composers like Satie and Milhaud, was influenced by Franck, Wagner and (especially in the Trio) Beethoven, although he was never a mere imitator of such formidable predecessors. His larger compositions are cyclic in structure; that is to say, themes in his works will often recur from movement to movement, as in many compositions of Franck and d'Indy. In general, Lekeu is regarded as a highly talented composer who died far too young.
- Works for orchestra
- Première étude symphonique (1889)
- Deuxième étude symphonique (1889)
- Overture on Burgraves by Victor Hugo (1890)
- Contrapuntal fantasy on a Liège cramignon (1890)
- Adagio pour quartet d'orchestre (1891)
- Fantasy on two folktunes from Angers (1892)
- Overture and Adagio for brass band (1892)
- Fantasy for orchestra on two popular Angevin tunes (1893)
- (Les) Burgraves
- Etude symphonique No. 1: Chant de triomphale délivrance
- Etude symphonique No. 2
- Vocal Music
- Andromède, poème lyrique et symphonique for soloists, choir and orchestra (1891)
- Chant lyrique for choir and orchestra (1891)
- Choral (À mon oncle Pierre Lekeu)
- Trois Poèmes, for soprano and piano, with texts by the composer.
- Chamber Music
- String Quartet in G major (1888)
- Cello Sonata in F major (1888)
- Piano Sonata in G minor (1891)
- Piano Quartet in B minor (1892/93, completed by d'Indy)
- Piano Trio in C minor (1890/91)
- Violin Sonata in G major (1892/93)
- (La) Fenêtre de la maison paternelle
- (Les) Pavots
- Morceau (Andante sostenuto)
- (L')Ombre plus dense
- Quelque antique et lente danse
- Free scores by Guillaume Lekeu at the International Music Score Library Project
- Guillaume Lekeu Piano Trio in c minor, Sound-bites & short bio
- Guillaume Lekeu at Find a Grave
- Guillaume Lekeu - El poder de la palabra/© José Antonio Bielsa (Spanish)
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