Information requested about Alfred Ernst« Back to Questions List


My name is Pascale Ernst and I am the great granddaughter of Alfred Ernst, a French musicologist.

As you may know, most modern music dictionaries and encyclopedias report that Alfred Ernst, who was born in 1860, was the son of Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst.

However, we have no evidence that Alfred Ernst was related to Heinrich Wilhelm. To the contrary, as pointed out by Mark Rowe in his detailed biography of Heinrich Wilhelm, Alfred’s birth certificate reports that he was born in Périgueux (Dordogne), to Eugene Ernst and Caroline Shattner. who were high school professors who had recently moved there from the area of Saverne in Alsace. 

Alfred Ernst died in 1898 at age 38, leaving 3 young sons who were raised in their mother’s family and received little information about Alfred’s story. It’s only in recent years that one of my cousins, Pierre Bidaud, a musician himself, started to explore Alfred’s archives and to research about his life and work.  Pierre and the rest of our family are intrigued by many aspects of Alfred’s life: Although he was educated as an engineer at the Ecole Polytechnique, Alfred soon became a French art critic at La Revue Blanche and La Revue des Deux Mondes and a musicologist, who specialized in the works of Hector Berlioz and Richard Wagner and was chosen by Cosima Wagner to translate some of Richard Wagner‘s operas into French. 

Specifically, Pierre pointed out that it was difficult to trace how Alfred acquired sufficient musical knowledge and training to launch such a career.  We also wonder about possible acquaintances between Alfred and Amélie Ernst, as both were involved in the same artistic circles in Paris in the last decades of the 19th century.

In addition, Alfred’s official mother, Caroline, born in 1823, and his official father Eugene born in 1824, both grew up in Alsace, respectively in the villages in Engwiller and Saverne, which are located in the same area as Mutzig where Amélie Levy was born and raised.

In the course of this research, we have started investigating the archives of various artists and writers:

  • Who knew Alfred during his years in Paris, such as Henri Gauthier-Villars (a French writer and journalist, who co-authored two books with Alfred and was husband to the famous writer Colette), Charles Bonnier a French Literature Professor and an influent member of the “Parti Ouvrier Français” who was Alfred’s companion on his trips to Bayreuth from 1886 onwards, Catulle Mendes (a French writer and musicologist who was among the first contributors to the Revue Wagnérienne together with Alfred and was ex-husband to Judith Gautier, Théophile Gautier’s daughter), Louis de Foucault, Henri Bordeaux, and Romain Rolland.
  • Or who were influenced by his work, such as Aloÿs Moser, a Swiss musicologist and a friend of Henri Gauthier-Villars.

We welcome any information that anyone familiar with Heinrich Wilhelm and Amélie may have about Alfred Ernst and his possible relationship to them, or any information that may help us assess why music dictionaries reported him to be the son of Heinrich Wilhelm.

Posted by HWE_admin
Asked on March 20, 2016 1:02 pm