Binn, Sylvain (1911-1999)

By Serge Binn, his son

Sylvain Binn is 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 native of Germany.

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

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

Passionate of 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.

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Sylvain BINN dirigeant la chorale

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

In 1940, he gets married to Irène Wolff. The Wolff family is an old Jewish family from Lorraine region settled in Waldwisse since 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 8th 1940, day of the German attack against Belgium. The day following the wedding, Sylvain is enlisted in the army, and made prisoner several weeks after. The young husband and wife will be separated for three years.

Prisoner in Germany in various officers’ camps (OFLAG), Sylvain Binn succeeds in escaping in 1943, after two missed attempts. He joins back his wife and parents, refugees in Grenoble.

At the liberation, the family goes back to Metz, and Sylvain finds his dental office back, opened 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.

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Grand concert de musique synagogale à Strasbourg (probablement avant 1953)
Joseph BORIN, Salomon BINN, Emile KAÇMANN, Rabbin POLIATCHEK, Paul LAZARIUS, Sylvain BINN

Furthermore, he develops an intense activity of 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 create an interreligious choral which will perform concerts of sacred music in various cult places, particularly 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 participates greatly to Parisian Jewish musical life. In particular in the synagogue of La Victoire where he replaces regularly Maurice Benhamou as the choir leader, or to play the organ during weddings or commemorative services.

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Concert du "Service sacré" d’Ernest BLOCH du 3 mars 1967 à la Grande Synagogue de Metz
Sylvain BINN, Emile KAÇMANN, Albert KIRCH

He writes down musical arrangements for choir and organ of traditional religious songs, writes articles about synagogue music, and takes 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 Sylvain Binn’s Archives

Playlist The musical traditions of the Jews from Alsace-Lorraine region

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