A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Lefébure-Wély, Louis

LEFÉBURE-WÉLY, Louis James Alfred, born in Paris Nov. 13, 1817, son of Antoine Lefébvre, organist and composer, who took the name of Lefébure-Wély, and died 1831. He learned his notes before the alphabet, and as soon as he could speak showed a marvellous aptitude for music. At eight he was his father's deputy at the organ, accompanying the plainsong and playing short pieces. Though only 15 when his father died, he was appointed his successor at St. Roch through the influence of Queen Marie Amélie. Feeling the need of solid study, he entered the Conservatoire in 1832, and obtained the second prizes for pianoforte and organ in 1834, and the first for both in the following year. He then took lessons in counterpoint from Halévy, and in composition from Berton, but, not satisfied with these professors, studied privately with Adolphe Adam, and with Séjan, the organist, who initiated him in the art of improvising and in the management of the stops. He told the author of this article that he owed much to both these men, widely different as they were, and he often sought their advice after he had left the Conservatoire in order to marry. To support his young family he took to teaching, and composed a quantity of pianoforte pieces, some of which were popular at the time. But it is as an organist that he will be remembered. His improvisations were marvellous, and from the piquancy of his harmonies, the unexpectedness of his combinations, the fertility of his imagination, and the charm which pervaded all he did, he might justly be called the Auber of the organ. The great popularity in France of the free-reed instruments of Debain and Mustel is largely owing to him; indeed, the effects he produced on the instruments of the harmonium class were really astonishing. Endowed with immense powers of work, Lefébure-Wély attempted all branches of composition—chamber music; symphonies for full orchestra; masses; an opéra-comique in 3 acts, 'Les Recruteurs' (Dec. 13, 1861); etc. Among his best works are his 'Cantiques,' a remarkable 'O Salutaris,' his 'Offertoires', many of his fantasias for harmonium, and his organ-pieces. He received the Legion of Honour in 1850, being at the time organist of the Madeleine, where he was from 1847 to 1858. After this he had for some time no regular post, but in 1863 accepted the organ of St. Sulpice, so long held with success by his friend and master Séjan. Here he remained till his death, which took place, of consumption, in Paris on Dec. 31, 1869.

[ G. C. ]