Charles-Valentin Alkan, from Jewish faith to modernity

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

Musiques Juives d’hier et d’aujourd’hui, Tuesday September 24th 2013, Judaïques FM (94.8), 21h05.

Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888) is a composer, virtuoso pianist, and a teacher and was often compared to Chopin or Liszt.
His musical language and his whole work that we rediscover today speak of a surprising modernity, long in advance from his time.

Alkan is born and died in Jewish faith. With his brothers and sisters, born with the name Morhange, he chooses as a surname the Hebrew first name of his father and becomes Charles-Valentin Alkan senior. As he knows many ancient languages (Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Syriac), he translates the Old and New Testament.

Along with Fromental Halévy, he collaborates occasionally with the Consistoire to the modernization of the liturgy. He will compose in particuliar two melodies for worship, asked by the hazan Samuel Naumbourg (Ets Khayim and Hallelujah). In 1851, he becomes the organ player of he synagogue in rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth, before resigning a few days later!

He writes a compilation of Prayers for organ, some with a Hebrew text aside, but these melodies are as much free compositions as prayers. Finally in 1854, he writes three small Jewish melodies, of which the third one is a paraphrase of Estro poetico-armonico by Benedetto Marcello, Venitian composer from the XVIIIth century, a Christian interested in Jewish liturgy.

Alkan dies in 1888, crushed down, according to the legend, by his library while he was looking for the Talmud!

Musicologist Anny Kessous Dreyfuss who wrote a book dedicated to the Jewish work of Charles-Valentin Alkan – Le Passant du pont de l’Europe : Charles-Valentin Alkan, will speak of the importance of this great composer who succeeded to reconcile Jewish tradition and modernity of his time.

A radio show illustrated with many musical excerpts...

Charles-Valentin Alkan - Hervé Roten (Judaïques FM 94.8)


Officer of the Ordre of Arts and letters, PhD in musicology at Paris University Sorbonne, prize-winning graduate from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, Hervé Roten is the director of the European Institute for Jewish Music since its creation in 2006.
Ethnomusicologist, he quickly developed an interest in the safeguard and digitization of archives, subjects he taught for several years in Reims and Marne-La-Vallée universities.
Author of many articles, books and recordings related to Jewish music, producer of radio programs, Hervé Roten is recognized today as one of the best specialists of Jewish music in the world.

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  • Charles-Valentin Alkan - Hervé Roten (Judaïques FM 94.8)

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