Reinterpreting Ysaÿe’s Annotations - Franck's Sonata

Audio Examples

This website is an appendix to the article:

Joanna Staruch-Smolec, 'Reinterpreting Ysaÿe’s Annotations. Musical sources relating to Franck’s Sonata in Viola Mitchell’s collection (Juilliard School Library)', Revue belge de Musicologie, 2025.



This study brings a new kind of source to the research on Franck’s famous Sonate pour piano et violon, namely handwritten annotations on printed editions held in the collection of Viola Mitchell (1911-2002), in the Library of the Juilliard School (New York). Specifically, it delves into annotations by Eugène Ysaÿe (1858–1931), Mitchell’s teacher, to whom the piece was dedicated and who widely influenced its performance history. These sources are approached from the perspective of a violinist-researcher, combining indepth analysis with violinistic experimentation. The findings contribute to scholarly reflections on the value of handwritten annotations; they highlight the challenges specific to this kind of source while embracing its temporary character as potentially beneficial to the study of performance practices. A selection of musical examples is discussed, considering the author’s prior research on Ysaÿe’s gestures. This analysis is complemented by audio recordings featuring the author’s violin interpretations which explore some of the performance options once proposed by Ysaÿe in his annotations.


This study has been conducted as part of my PhD at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles (CrB) under the Research Fellowship of the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS).

Recording details:

Musicians: Joanna Staruch-Smolec (violin) and Krzysztof Potocznik (piano) 

Sound engineering: Krzysztof Potocznik

Production: Pascaline Forgeot

Instruments: Violin with gut strings (romantic set: round-wound G, 1.26mm D, 0.88mm A, 0.68mm E) and 1859 Steinway Grand

Date: 19.03.2024

Location: Musée des Instruments de Musique, Brussels


Special thanks to Pascale Vandervellen and to the Musée des Instruments de Musique.

Please scroll to the right, there are 6 examples in total.

The red markings on the scores and downbow/upbow symbols (which appear in black) represent Ysaÿe's annotations on the analysed parts. The 'port[amento]' signs are reserved to the portamentos discussed in the text.


The scholarly reflection within the article is essential for understanding the subsequent audio examples. These examples, far from being prescriptive or pretending to represent the so-called ‘composer’s intentions’, simply embody our attempts to interpret Ysaÿe’s handwritten annotations.

Ex. 1 (mvt 1, bars 1-31)

The tempo of the first movement of Franck’s Sonata has long been a subject of debate, with Ysaÿe’s tempo reported to be notably slow. In our recording, we aimed to explore the potential of the tempo annotated in one of the analysed parts: ‘quaver = 144’. Our goal was to create a more serene, dreamy character, which might have been well-suited to the initial wedding setting (the Sonata was Franck’s wedding gift, and Ysaÿe sight-read it directly at the celebration). 

The red markings on the score represent Ysaÿe’s annotations. The grey numbers are the fingerings for which I remain uncertain whether they were annotated by Ysaÿe or Mitchell.

Ex. 2 (mvt 2, bars 57-59, Fig. 3)

This is an example of multiple layers of handwritten annotation.

Ysaÿe’s fingerings are marked in red, with question marks next to my best guesses for the erased numbers (it seems that he annotated the same fingerings once more under the staff). This version suggests a portamento between C and A flat, a descending third being a typical setting for Ysaÿe to use a pronounced single-finger portamento.

The second version of the fingering, annotated over the erased layer likely by Mitchell, is marked in green. This instruction represents a more ‘modern’ approach to end the phrase: playing it on the G string and without the portamento. It could be an attempt to adhere to Ysaÿe’s dynamic indication ‘ppp’.

Ex. 3 (mvt 2, bars 38-43, Fig. 8)


An example of a portamento between notes in unison played with two different fingers, which is often called ‘bariolage portamento’, can be found in the bar 41. Ysaÿe annotates the first A in this bar with the second finger on the D string and the second A of this bar with the fourth finger on the G string (see Figure 8). Typically, in this kind of situation, he would slide with his finger on the lower string covering the distance of around a third (i.e. from around F sharp in this case).

Ex. 4 (mvt 2, bars 52-59, Fig. 7)

This is one of the very rare instances where Ysaÿe draws a line to explicitly indicate a portamento and this is between C sharp and G (bar 55). This gentle portamento without position change eases the challenging transition from the sempre forte e passionato character to the pianissimo dolce character, as indicated by Franck.

Ex. 5 (mvt 2, bars 67-79, Fig. 4)

In bar 70 of the second movement, Ysaÿe annotates the second finger on F and the third finger on E flat, which seems to be an invitation to use a portamento with the ‘preceding’ finger. Ysaÿe uses this type of portamento in a very pronounced manner, often exceeding the actual interval between the notes. In this case, it would mean sliding with the second finger from F down to around D, before placing the third finger on E flat.

The hairpins and the note ‘suppliant’ (which I marked in blue), have been annotated by Margaret Horne (Mitchell’s teacher) possibly during a lesson with Ysaÿe. In our recording, we have tried to achieve the character implied by these additional annotations, also by means of this special type of portamento.

Ysaÿe annotates this fingering in multiple instances when this motivic unit comes back, making it a kind of performative pattern (e.g. bar 74 in this example, but also in the reexposition). As a continuation of this pattern, I use the same type of portamento also in bar 76.

Ex. 6 (mvt 2, bars 94-97, Fig. 6)

In bar 94 of the second movement, Ysaÿe annotates a down-bow on the first quaver, which promotes a resolute entrance and a firm martelé in the upper part of the bow. The purple mark in the end represents the line annotated on the score at the level of the violin part. It probably indicates finishing the note firmly without prolonging it, or maybe even shortening it.

Ysaÿe also annotates the second finger on 3 notes in a row (G sharp, B and A), which seems to be an ideal set for experimenting with two types of single finger portamento used by Ysaÿe:

  1. A bigger ascending interval (G sharp to B) is a typical setting for single finger slide after the bow change that he often plays in a fast, decided manner.

  2. A smaller descending interval (B to A) is a setting for a single finger slide on one bow that he often plays in a slow and pronounced manner.

In our recording we have explored the potential of these elements (bowing and portamento) in creating a powerful character, in line with Franck’s intense dynamics (mf - molto cresc. - ff) and fuocoso indication.