Offenbach, Jacques (1819-1880)

Emblematic composer of the second half of the 19th century, Jacques Offenbach is the son of Isaac Eberst, musician and cantor in the synagogue of Cologne.

Jacques Offenbach is born on June 20th 1819. He is the son of Isaac Eberst (1779-1850) musician and cantor in the synagogue. Native of Offenbach-sur-le-Main, Isaac Eberst adopts the name of Offenbach around 1810, following the Napoleonian decree of July 28th 1808 that forces all Jews from the Empire to take a “definitive name”, in order to facilitate their survey and civil state registry.

Jacob Offenbach (who will be later called Jacques Offenbach) starts to compose at the age of 9. Cello player and talented musician, he is sent at the age of 14 to the Conservatoire de Musique of Paris, with his brother Julius. At the same time, from December 1st 1833 on, Jacques Offenbach is in charge of the choir of the synagogue Notre-Dame de Nazareth in Paris. He will do that just for six months because the rabbinic authorities will fight on the fact that he plays in an orchestra during Shabbat.

After one year in the conservatory, Offenbach is forced to leave it because his behavior is not satisfactory. Later on, he will join the orchestra of the Opéra-comique and will attract the attention of Jacques F. Halévy, composer, who will become his teacher. In between, his reputation increases. He writes several music pieces for the Opéra-comique and performs cello concerts from 1839 on.

He becomes famous with small melodies, and becomes musical director of the Comédie française in 1847. He is the creator of the French opera-bouffe. Eight years later, he opens a theater to perform his works: the theater Bouffes-Parisiens, inaugurated in 1855. It is there that is created the first opera-bouffe of Offenbach, Orphée aux Enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) (1858), which will be a success. His following operas (La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, La Vie parisienne, Les Brigands) will be equally welcomed. That period, which is qualified as “imperial celebration”, from which Offenbach has become in 15 years one of the emblematic figures, is brutally interrupted by the French-Prussian war in 1870. Mindful of the taste of the public, Offenbach then focuses on the opera-bouffe-féérie (Le Roi Carotte) and then on the patriotic opera (La Fille du Tambour-Major).
Offenbach dies a few months before the premiere of the opera which will give him the acknowledgement he was seeking, Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) – one of the most performed French operas nowadays.

Jacques Offenbach composed several synagogue songs (Ashamnou, Tavo lefanecha…) written while his father was visiting him in Cologne. He also wrote at the age of 16 some waltzes with Jewish Patterns from the 15th century.

Ecouter l’émission de radio de Laure Schnapper consacrée à Jacques Offenbach

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  • Grande valse (EXTRAIT) - Jacques Offenbach

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