A family story : Isaac and Jacques Offenbach

A radio program of the European Institute for Jewish Music hosted by Hervé Roten


On the occasion of the release of the CD Jacques Offenbach and friends - From the Synagogue to the Opera, Hervé Roten invites Jacobo Kaufmann, stage director, writer and researcher, and author of several books and articles dedicated to Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880) and his father Isaac Offenbach (1779-1850)

Isaac Offenbach is born in Offenbach-sur-le-Main, near Frankfurt, the 26th October 1779. Orphan when he was very young, he learns music with travelling cantors. In 1802, settles down in Deutz, a town on the Rhine facing Cologne, and starts to make a living by singing in Jewish religious services, but also as a violonist in ballrooms and taverns. in Deutz, where he is called « der Offenbacher », he marries Marianne Rindskopf. And, following the Napoleon’s decree of 1808, he changes his last name Eberst into Offenbach.
Isaac Offenbach earns his living as a teacher of violin, flute, guitar and singing, and from 1820 as a cantor in the synagogue of Cologne. For thirty years, he writes liturgical compositions for Shabbat service and Jewish holidays, as well as a music theatre piece, Esther, queen of Persia or The Israelites got away from Haman’s vengeance and other Purim’s songs. He is also the author of several secular pieces, like his Twelve sonatinas for guitar.
Isaac Offenbach passed away on the 26th April 1850, at the age of 71. Most of his musical and literary works are kept at the Hebrew Union College of New York and at the National Library of Jerusalem.

Jacques Offenbach is one of the 9 children of Isaac and Marianne Offenbach. Born in Cologne on the 20th June 1819, he leaves with his father and brother Jules to Paris to start superior music studies. France is then the only country in Europe where a Jew can have a carrier in music without converting. At the age of 14, Jacques enters the cello class at the Conservatoire de Musique of Paris, and his brother Jules learns violin with Paganini.
On the 1st of December 1833, the two brothers are hired at the Parisian synagogue Notre-Dame de Nazareth as « in charge of the formation and direction of the Choral ». Following a disagreement with the rabbi of the synagogue, their contract is not renewed. Having to work to earn a living, Jacques leaves the music school after one year and enters the orchestra of the Opéra Comique where he attracts the attention of Jacques Fromental Halévy who gives him composition and orchestration lessons.
From 1839, Jacques Offenbach writes a few stage music pieces for the Opéra Comique and gives cello concerts. His growing reputation gives him access to the Comédie Française, where he becomes music director in 1847. In 1855, he opens his own theatre : the Bouffes-Parisiens, where he creates several opera-bouffes acclaimed by the public : Orpheus in Hell, The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, La Vie parisienne, The Bandits… In 1870, Offenbach’s carrier is interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war. Offenbach turns then to the opera-bouffe-féérie (King Carrot) and to the patriotic opera (The Drum Major’s Daughter). He passed away on the 5th of October 1880, a few months before the premiere of the opera which will bring him the renown he waited so long for, The Tales of Hoffmann – one of the most performed French operas nowadays.
In 1844, Jacques Offenbach converted to catholicism to marry Hérminie d’Alcain (1827-1887). But Jacques Offenbach grew up with the chants of the synagogue. At the age of 16, he writes several waltzes on Jewish motifs of the XVth century, called Rebecca (1837, unpublished). And in 1841, on the occasion of the visit to his father in Cologne, he composed two synagogal chorals (Tovo lefone’ho and Ochamnou) for the prayer of confession of Yom Kippur. This Jewish work by Offenbach – that we will hear during this broadcast - was rediscovered about thirty years ago by Jacobo Kaufmann, from original manuscripts by Isaac Offenbach kept in New York and Jerusalem.

A fascinating program, not to miss…

Read Isaac Offenbach’s biography
Read Jacques Offenbach’s biography
Learn more on Jacobo Kaufmann’s book Isaac Offenbach and his son Jacques

Purchase the CD Jacques Offenbach and friends - From the Synagogue to the Opera - Vol.6, Ed. IEMJ, on our online shop

Une histoire de famille : Isaac et Jacques Offenbach

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