Naumbourg, Samuel (1817-1880)

by Hervé Roten*

Born on March 15th, 1817 in Dennenlohe, in Bavaria, Samuel Naumbourg comes from a long lineage of famous cantors. Going to the synagogue very young, he learns cantorial art from South Germany. Later he studies singing and composition in Munich. He takes part in the choir of the town’s new community, under the supervision of Maier Kohn.

Pioneer on ethnomusicology, he starts to gather and to write an important part of the Ashkenazi oral tradition of South Germany.
Called to Strasbourg, he conducts the community’s choir from 1838 to 1843, and and then in Besançon from 1843 to 1845.

In 1845, he is appointed to the cantorship of the consistorial temple in Paris, with the recommandation of Fromental Halévy, and a trial period of one year. Samuel Naumbourg wants to give back to the divine service the pump it deserves. He starts to reform a choir that he leads with success, and for whom he composes new tunes.

Between 1847 and 1874, Naumbourg publishes four synagogal music collection books for soloist, choir, and sometimes accompaniment of the harp, the piano or the organ (Zemirot Israel, Religious Songs of the Israelites, vol. I-II, 1847 ; Zemirot Israel, Religious Songs of the Israelites, vol. III, 1857 ; Chirei Kodech, New Religious Collection for the Jewish Cult, 1864 ; Agoudat chirim, Collection of Religious and Popular Jewish Songs, 1874). These collections comprise mainly his own compositions, but also arrangements of traditional tunes and other composers works (Lovy, Fromental Halévy, Alkan …).

In 1860, Naumbourg is appointed liturgical singing teacher at the Jewish Seminary. In 1865, after the passing away of Cantor Isaac David, he becomes first cantor. He will keep this position until summer 1878 when he falls deeply sick, which will keep him away from the synagogue until his death, 18 months later, the 1st of May 1880. Samuel Naumbourg is buried in the Parisian cemetary of South-Montparnasse.


*Excerpt from Hervé Roten’s article, « The musical heritage of the Great Synagogue of La Victoire », La synagogue de la Victoire, 150 ans du judaïsme français, éditions Porte-plume, 2017


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