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Elias Parish Alvars

Elias Parish Alvars was a renowned 19th century harpist and composer. Born at Teignmouth c.1808, he died in Vienna in 1849. Married to Melanie Lewy, after his death his widow married his friend Samuel Fischer of London.

There has been much confusion about his origins. It seems more than likely that he was in fact Jewish, and that the family tree in the booklet by John Wilson Smith refers to a quite different person. Rabbi Susser noted that there was a Joseph Parish resident at 10, Wellington Row Teignmouth as a music seller in 1827. This was next door to the watchmaker Benjamin Jonas and his wife Annie, nee Ezekiel, who had 22 children. However, this was may not have been the father of Elias Parish, and the neighbourly connection just adds to the confusion. Against this is the record of the Royal Academy which states that Joseph Parish of Teignmouth, music seller, was the father of Eli Parish. Were there two Joseph Parishes in Teignmouth?

In the Account Books of the Exeter Hebrew Congregation David Parish occurs in 5595 and 5596 [1834-6] as a full paying seatholder. As the ledger commences 1827 and ends in 1840 this suggests that the Parish family were not long in the area.

A Dr Parish and his wife resigned their seats in the Exeter Synagogue c. 1838. They had been regular weekly purchasers of kosher meat in the 1830s. Purchases are recorded from June 8th, 1830 to the end of the ledger on September 18th, 1832. A David Parish is listed in the congregational ledger for the 1830s. As he never attended meetings, it is likely that this person was an 'out-of-town' member of the synagogue. Elias Parish started his first continental tour in June, 1830.

The title "Dr" probably indicated a non-qualified practitioner, as Jews could not in those days be qualified as doctors. It is impossible that any of their children were baptised, as the parents were clearly practising traditional Jews. It seems possible that there were two Parish families at the time, the Joseph Parish who was organist at the parish church being head of a quite different Christian family.

Elias Parish started travelling to London to study by 1820. He performed in Exeter in January, 1828.His first continental tour was in June, 1830.


December 10th 2000: the following advertisement makes clear the occupation of Dr David Parish.

 Dr Parish

 

At his Residence, No 10, Bartholomew Street, eight doors from North Street, may be consulted from Eight in the morning till Two at Night.

Among the numerous excitements to enterprise and research, that of success ever holds the highest claim on the minds of intelligent Men; a life spent in successful practice gives a confidence and a power which demands the highest encomiums. Dr PARISH, who after an extensive practice of twenty years has rendered his counsel an object of the utmost consequence to all who are labouring under hereditary, or deep seated maladies; to those troubled with Consumption and Asthma his advice will be invaluable, hundreds having owned his skills in these complaints. To the youth of both sexes, whether lured from health by the promptings of passion or the delusions of inexperience his advice is superior to all others. In his practice, he unites a mild gentleness of treatment and possessing so thorough a knowledge of his art, the most deplorable cases afford no resistance to his skills. His extensive practice has rendered him the depository of many distressing secrets, which are kept with unblemished faith and honour. To persons so afflicted it is highly necessary to observe that an early application is of the greatest importance, and that with such a practitioner any hesitation in disclosing their disorders, must amount to a delicacy as destructive as is false and unnecessary. - A Private Entrance first door up the Passage.

[Exeter Flying Post 1.12.1831, page 3, column 5]

In the burial ground of the Exeter Hebrew Congregation there is the following tombstone inscription:

Aaron Samuel Paris

1836

Erected by lamenting parents

[In Hebrew: Hana'ar rach [?] b'shnayim Aharon Smu'el ben David 12 shanim ie Aaron Samuel aged 12 son of David]

If Elias Parish Alvars' marriage to Melanie Lewy took place under Jewish auspices this would remove any doubt. It would have been extremely unlikely that he would have converted, especially given his fame. This information would be at Vienna. [See below]

There is an entry for Parish in the Jewish Encyclopaedia which I have not seen. [14.12.2000 The entry tacitly accepts that Parish was a Jew. British Musical Biography by Brown and Stalk (1891) states unequivocally that Parish-Alvars was of 'Jewish parentage'.]

 

Parish- Alvars: was he Jewish?

For:

  • The British Musical Biography and the Jewish Encyclopaedia both accept that Parish-Alvars was Jewish.

  • Parish-Alvars married a presumably Jewish woman: Melanie Lewy

  • After his death Melanie Lewy married his friend Samuel Fischer, whose name also suggests Jewish origin

  • Parish-Alvars travelled in the Middle East

  • He composed a piece based on a traditional Hebrew melody he heard

  • There was a Parish family who were undoubtedly Jewish living in the vicinity of his birthplace

  • It is extremely likely that he would speak German (or a form of German) as his mother tongue, even though born in Devon. The majority of Jews in Devon of his parents' generation were first generation immigrants from Alsace and Germany. This would have stood him in good stead in his career at the imperial capital, Vienna.

 

Against:

  • He is buried in a non-Jewish cemetery

  • There was a Joseph Parish of Teignmouth who was a music dealer, a neighbour of the Jewish Jonas family, and supplier and player of the organ in the church at Teignmouth

  • The records of the Royal Academy state he was the son of Joseph Parish of Teignmouth

 

Possible Evidence

A copy of his Marriage Certificate from Vienna would hopefully make clear his parentage and his religion. A Jewish wedding would have been impossible if he was not himself born a Jew. However, with the assistance of the very helpful Ms H. Weiss of the Jewish National Body in Vienna, I have ascertained since writing the above that Eli Alvars Parish "married in 1842 in Vienna in the Roman-Catholic rectory of St. Augustin in the City. For us the earliest case of renouncing in the Jewish community's history of19th century." The only queries that now arise are:

  • Why was this a Catholic rather than a Protestant ceremony? Joseph Parish as organist at the parish church in Teignmouth would have had littlr empathy with Roman Catholicism.

  • Was Catholic status a requirement or expectation of his role as principal harpist at the Imperial Court Opera?

  • Was Melanie Loewy's mother, Jeanette Weiler, not Jewish, which would prevent him marrying her in a synagogue? [Melanie's father Eduard Loewy was born Elias Levi in Alsace, of undoubtedly Jewish parentage. He was one of the most important horn players of his day.

As regards his surname Alvars, there is a small clue to a possible family connection in the details of a marriage that took place in the Great Synagogue, London,

1835 28 June Henry JOEL (Tsevi Hirsh s. of Shlomoh) and Amelia ALVERS (Miriam d. of Aharon Alvarez)


Bibliography:

"Elias Parish Alvars, 1808-1849: King of Harpists", John Wilson Smith, Monograph no 9, Teignmouth Museum and Historical Society

"Elias Parish Alvars: Life, Music, Documents", Floraleda Sacchi [I have ordered a copy of this book].


Sundries:

"My Great Aunt (x2) married Solomon Robert Benabo in Bristol UK on 18 Dec 1844. He was the son of Masahod BENABO. There is no sign of this family in London in the 1881 UK census but there is another family of Abraham BENABO, an auctioneer, and Amelia PARIS and ten children who I suspect may be a brother or cousin of Solomon, and a Masahod BENABO marrying Hannah bar Jacob in the City of London in 1885."

 

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