Whether as a mark of distinction or genius, the trend is embodied by Eugène Ysaÿe, according to The Strad's June 1897 issue


Ysaÿe in the 1880s

London Truth discussing the question of hirsute eccentricities to which the majority of musicians are given, wonders why things are as they are. 'Is long hair an unfailing mark of genius?' it asks. The answer is: no, not necessarily, but it is certainly a mark of policy. It does not require any profound wisdom on the part of a public performer to know that it is better to be talked about for his ugliness or his eccentricity than not to have his personality discussed at all, and if a man be so unfortunate as to possess a normal face and figure, with the average number of features and limbs, in what quarter must he look for individuality, save in his hair?

Aimé Lachaume, the young French pianist who is this year touring with Rivarde, and who did the same last year with Ysaÿe (pictured), tells how he happened this season to bloom out as one of the long-haired brethren. When he first went to America, Lachaume wore his hair in every-day fashion, and also cultivated a rather tentative beard. People heard him play, exclaimed, 'How unassuming!' went away, and forgot him. Since his conversion, however, the same persons cry, 'How hideous! But the man is evidently a genius, Bravo!' and they depart, and this time do not forget.

It was Ysaÿe who brought this change about. Last year, in the course of their travels, the two artists found themselves in a town somewhere in the west. They were sitting in a room together when Ysaÿe exclaimed, 'It's no use Lachaume, I can't stand that beard of yours any longer; it is too ugly, and it must come off!'

'But my dear man,' answered the alarmed pianist. 'I have taken such pains to grow that beard; it has cost me years of labour and anxiety; besides you know one must have something distinctive about one.'

'Yes, of course I know that, but all you have to do is to let your hair grow like mine. And there's no time like the present, either, so you just sit down in that chair there and we'll make short work of the business.'

No sooner said than done. In a few seconds Lachaume was sitting trembling in the chair, while the great Ysaÿe wielded the razor about his devoted chin.

'In future, my dear boy, use a razor, but never scissors, and you are sure to become famous.'

Read: Ysaÿe’s early compositions

Read: From the Archive: September 1901