David, Samuel (1836-1895)

by Bruno Fraitag

Born in Paris on November 12th 1836, Samuel David is admitted very young at the music conservatory, where he wins at the age of 13 a first prize award of solfeggio (1850) and then of harmony and accompaniment (1854). Student of Halévy (counterpoint, fugue, composition), he wins a first prize of fugue in 1855, before winning the first prize of Rome three years later. Resident in the Villa Médicis in Rome in 1859 and 1860, he goes back to Paris the next year.

Meanwhile, he becomes singing master in 1856 at the Théâtre-Lyrique, and obtains to make perform at the Théâtre des Folies-Nouvelles an operetta in one act of his composition, entitled la Peau de l’ours. Samuel David won’t ever stop composing during his whole life. He is the author of four symphonies and many vocal works, but it is most of all the stage music that attracted him. He created many operettas, operas or comic-operas, which most of them stayed as manuscripts, never performed. Only the comic-opera Mademoiselle Sylvia was performed, on April 17th 1868. Despite the welcoming of the audience, it was never performed again !

Teacher, Samuel David is the author of a book called : L’art de jouer en mesure (the art of playing in measure) (1862).

But it is when he was appointed "director of the music of the consistorial temple" in 1872, that Samuel David showed his best. This position, newly created by the consistory during the construction of the great synagogue of rue de la Victoire, was aimed to unify the liturgical repertoires.

Léon Algazi wrote in 1953 that "Samuel David dedicated himself to his task with a remarkable enthusiasm and as for an important religious mission."
He works to renovate the traditional songs by finding their primitive form. The Kol Nidre, sang every year during Yom Kippur, illustrates perfectly this statement.

David also harmonized many musical pieces with modal requirements, but still keeping, when necessary, the original chants "which do not support any kind of harmony or that accomodates badly with our measure bars". In many works, he starts from famous melodies by Beethoven, Rossini, or Mendelssohn.

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