Biography written by Hervé Roten
We know almost nothing about Alphonse de Villers’s life. His name comes up a few times in the archives of the Israeli Consistory of Paris. It seems that he was born around 1845. He was organist and also composer. His first works – Chant triomphal, Op.2 et Gavotte, Op3 – were published in 1869.
In 1859 (he would then be only 14-15 years old!), he became organist of the Portuguese synagogue on rue Lamartine. In 1872, he published a sheet music collection called Recueil des chants traditionnels et lithurgiques composant les offices hébraïques du rite oriental, in which he transcribed the friday night’s service and eve of holidays in the Portuguese ritual. He signed the introduction of his collection with his name and added these words Ani lo-yehoudi (I am not Jewish). Moreover, it is under this title that he became organist of the synagogue of rue La Victoire in 1874. He was “charged to touch the organ on saturdays and holidays”, his colleague Ernest Cahen, organist in the temple of rue Notre Dame de Nazareth, assisted him during weddings.
In an essay written on November 26, 1895, Alphonse de Villers expressed his frustration at having worked for the Jewish temples for 36 years while being under-paid. He emphasized the fact that in 1893 he replaced his colleague Ernest Cahen, deceased, without seeing any raise his wages. Alphonse de Villers ended his letter like this :”I have yet not lived, at almost 50 years old, the intimate satisfaction that the honest man feels when making his lifetime earnings…”
The day and place of his death are still unknown today.