Binn, Sylvain (1911-1999)

logo bio Elsa Barraine

By Serge Binn, his son

Sylvain Binn was born in Luxembourg on March 8th 1911. His father, Salomon Binn, native of Lithuania, was a cantor in the Jewish community of Luxembourg. His mother, Sidonie Guggenheim, was a native of Germany.

In 1920, the Binn family settled down in Metz (Moselle region), where Salomon Binn was appointed « First Cantor », a position that he kept until his death in 1954.

Sylvain Binn continued his studies in Metz high school, and then continues with his studies in dental surgery at Nancy University. At the same time, he continued music studies at Metz Conservatory, learning piano, theory and composition.

Passionate for Jewish music, music that he heard since his childhood because of his father’s work, he develops a deep knowledge of synagogue music, as it is performed at the time in the synagogues, in which the service is given by the Cantor, a choir and an accompaniment with the organ.

Sylvain BINN conducting the choir

Sylvain Binn will be actively in charge of Metz synagogue’s choir, which he will lead on some occasions, replacing the usual choir leader (Max Rosenweig).

In 1940, he was married to Irène Wolff. The Wolff family is an old Jewish family from the Lorraine region, settled in Waldwisse for several generations. Irène’s father, David Wolff, is president of the Jewish community of Waldwisse. Irène and Sylvain will have two sons: Serge (1944) and Daniel (1946 – 1996).

The wedding took place on May 8, 1940, the day of the German attack against Belgium. The day following the wedding, Sylvain was enlisted into the army, and taken prisoner several weeks later. The young husband and wife will be separated for three years.

A prisoner in Germany in various officers’ camps (OFLAG), Sylvain Binn succeeded in escaping in 1943, after two failed attempts. He rejoined his wife and parents, refugees in Grenoble.

At the liberation, the family goes back to Metz, and Sylvain reopens his dental office back, that was established shortly before the war. His father Salomon returns to his activity of cantor. Sylvain also returns to his musical activities with the synagogue’s choir.

Great concert of synagogal music in Strasbourg (probably before 1953) Joseph BORIN, Salomon BINN, Emile KAÇMANN, Rabbi POLIATCHEK, Paul LAZARIUS, Sylvain BINN

Furthermore, he developed an intense engagement with profane music, by taking part in the creation of ALAM (Lorraine Organisation of Friends of Music), which will organize prestigious concerts. It is as part of ALAM that Sylvain Binn and pastor Griesbeck created an interreligious choral which will perform concerts of sacred music in various cult places, particularly the Metz synagogue where will be performed the Sacred Service by Darius Milhaud, and by Ernest Bloch, with the Metz municipal orchestra.

In 1984, Sylvain Binn and his wife settle down in Paris for their retirement. Until his death in 1999, Sylvain participated a great deal in Parisian Jewish musical life. In particular in the synagogue of La Victoire where he regularly replaced Maurice Benhamou as the choir leader, or to play the organ during weddings or commemorative services.

Concert of the “Sacred service” by Ernest BLOCH on March 3, 1967 in the Grande Synagogue of Metz, Sylvain BINN, Emile KAÇMANN, Albert KIRCH

He wrote down musical arrangements of traditional religious songs for choir and organ , wrote articles about synagogue music, and took part in the radio show « écoute Israël » (« listen Israel »).

He left many notes and articles, compositions, arrangements, as well as a library of music scores, and hand-written and printed books and articles about Jewish music.

These documents have been given to the European Institute for Jewish Music and are now accessible for consultation.

Browse our archive on Sylvain Binn


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