Alphonse de Villers (around 1845 ? – after 1896)

Biography written by Hervé Roten



We know almost nothing about Alphonse de Villers’s life. His name comes up a few times in the archives of the Israeli Consistory of Paris. It seems that he was born around 1845. He is organist and also composer. His first works – Chant triomphal, Op.2 et Gavotte, Op3 – are published in 1869.

In 1859 (he would then be only 14-15 years old!), he becomes organist of the Portuguese synagogue on rue Lamartine. In 1872, he publishes a sheet music collection called Recueil des chants traditionnels et lithurgiques composant les offices hébraïques du rite oriental, in which he transcribes the friday night’s service and eve of holidays in the Portuguese ritual. He signs the introduction of his collection with his name and adds these words Ani lo-yehoudi (I am not Jewish). Moreover, it is under this title that he will become organist of the synagogue of rue La Victoire in 1874. He is “charged to touch the organ on saturdays and holidays”, his colleague Ernest Cahen, organist in the temple of rue Notre Dame de Nazareth, seconds him during weddings.

In an essay written on November 26th 1895, Alphonse de Villers expresses his frustration of having worked for the Jewish temples for 36 years while being under payed. He emphasizes the fact that he replaced in 1893 his colleague Ernest Cahen, deceased, without seeing any raise of his wages. Alphonse de Villers ends his letter like this :”I have yet not lived, at almost 50 years old, the intimate satisfaction that feels the honest man earning his life...”

The day and place of his death are still unknown today.

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