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Leon Algazi

Leon AlgaziFrench choirmaster, composer and writer, LÉON ALGAZI (1890 – 1971) was born in Iepuresti, Romania. From early childhood, he showed exceptional musical gifts, but his family was determined that he should become a rabbi. In 1905 he was enrolled in the Sephardic yeshiva in Jerusalem. He then pursued studies at the Séminaire Israëlite in Paris. These studies were interrupted by World War I, when he volunteered to serve. He graduated in 1922 (Diplôme de Rabbin).

Mr. Algazi pursued musical training in Vienna, briefly with Arnold Schönberg and mainly with Hans Eisler. He became a conductor in the city’s Jewish theater. Back in Paris, he studied at the Conservatoire de Paris with André Gedalge, Charles Koechlin and Raoul Laparra. He then taught Hebrew music at the Schola Cantorum, and he was appointed director of music of the Temples of the French Consistoire as well as choirmaster of the great Synagogue of the Victoire, also known as the Rothschild Synagogue.

Throughout his life, Mr. Algazi produced, directed and performed on national French radio the religious and musical parts of the weekly program Ecoute Israel.

Mr. Algazi was most well known for his Service sacré pour le samedi matin et pour vendredi soir (1955) and his Chants séphardis (1958). He also wrote music for psalms, suites, folksong and art song harmonization, and incidental theater music. The Sacred Service was written at the request of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York and musical director Lazare Saminsky. At the invitation of Emanu-El’s trustees, Mr. Algazi came to the United States in February 1952 to conduct the world premiere of his work during a Sabbath morning service.

Critic Roland Manuel reviewed the musical score with the following words: “Léon Algazi’s Sacred Service is of utmost homogeneity in its diversity of moods dictated by the rite to which he subordinates himself with great modesty. In its recollection as in its exaltation, the music spontaneously attains a two-fold goal; be it as a work of prayer or as a work of art, it accomplishes its purpose, which is to create an object that delights the mind with its formal clarity.”

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