Alberto Hemsi

Sephardic Jewish composer Alberto Hemsi was born in Turgutlu in what is now the Aegean region of Turkey on 27 June 1898. When his parents detected his keen interest in music, they sent him to stay with his uncle in Smyrne - now Izmir - so that he could attend a local school run by the Paris-based Alliance Israélite Universelle. The director there insisted that Hemsi should move to Italy to study at the Conservatory in Milan.

Returning home in 1919, he began to collect folk music of the Hispano-Judaic tradition, collecting chants from throughout the former Ottoman Empire, attempting to harmonise them for piano - difficult because they were monophonic and modal - and publishing them as his Coplas Sefardies.

Hemsi also wrote music for piano, cello, choir, string chamber and orchestral music, drawing inspiration from Egyptian, Greek and Turkish music, and also from Jewish liturgical music.

The Hemsi family moved to Rhodes, then to Alexandria. In 1957 they had to uproot, again, this time to Paris to escape the political turmoil in Egypt, and Hemsi found work directing the music in synagogues and teaching solfeggio. While he remained in good health, he also continued to travel with his compositions.

Alberto Hemsi died in Paris from lung cancer on 8 October 1975, aged seventy-seven.


A selection of articles about Alberto Hemsi

CD Spotlight. Full of Colour - Geoff Pearce enjoys music by Alberto Hemsi. 'The performers show a real affinity with this music and deliver a sparkling and vivacious performance that is full of character at every turn.'

CD Spotlight. A Plethora of Influences - Robert McCarney roundly congratulates Chandos and all involved with this CD. 'The playing by the various members of the ARC Ensemble is excellent throughout and the recording is crystal clear and atmospherically spacious.'