Samuel Naumbourg

Composer, Synagogue singer, Musicologist, French Jewish reformer of synagogue music & choirmaster

Samuel Naumbourg was born in Dennelohe, Bavaria, groomed from a young age to continue the long line of professional hazzanim in his family. He received his formal musical education in Munich where he was recruited to sing in Maier Kohn’s synagogue choir.  Naumbourg’s early appointments included a cantorial post in Besançon and a position as choirmaster of the Synagogue in Strasburg.

In 1845 Naumbourg was invited to officiate as hazzan of the Rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth Synagogue in Paris, and was subsequently hired as a professor of liturgical music at the Séminaire Israélite.  With the support of Jacques Fromental Halevy and the French government, Naumbourg set out to revamp the Synagogue service through a serious reform of liturgical music. To this end, he released the first two volumes of Zemirot Israel in 1847which included original compositions and arrangements for Shabbat and Holiday liturgy, set for hazzan, choir and organ. The third volume of the collection, Hymnes et Psaumes was added when the series was re-released in 1864. Though Naumbourg comes from the South German tradition, a large percentage of his arrangements mimic the style of Parisian grand opera, a genre that was a pervasive force in the cultural and musical milieu of nineteenth century France.

In 1874, Naumbourg published a collection of Synagogue melodies, Agudat Shirim, which combined pieces from the South German tradition with melodies from the Western Sephardi rite.  Naumbourg also included a lengthy introduction, giving an unprecedented overview of the history of religious Jewish music. Another of Naumbourg’s important contributions was his work on the modern edition of Salomon de Rossi’s Ha-Shirim Asher li-Shelomo. Naumbourg went to great lengths to collect all of the parts of Rossi’s score which were scattered amongst several libraries in Western Europe. Once the entire score was in his possession, Naumbourg edited the material and released 30 of the 33 original pieces, along with a selection of Rossi’s madrigals under the title Cantiques de Salamon Rossi.