Alexandre Levy is the first (meaning the earliest) known musician to appear on the usual list of those who died at 27. He was a little more than 2 months past his 27th birthday when he died suddenly. The cause of his death is unfortunately unknown, and there was apparently no clue or foreknowledge that he had any medical condition, or that he was was suffering from any malady or ill health. His passing was a terrible and tragic surprise to his family, friends and fans. He was born on November 10, 1864, and died on January 17, 1892.
Levy was born in San Paulo, Brazil, to a Jewish family that had emigrated from France. His clarinetist father, Henrique Luis Levy, was a central figure in the musical life of the cosmopolitan city at that time. He started a music business selling scores that is still in operation today known as Casa Levy – although nowadays the store sells pianos.
Alexandre was known in his short life as an aspiring concert pianist and as a Brazilian nationalist composer. His early years in a musical household paved the way for his talents to emerge, and in fact his brother Luis was his first piano and music teacher. During his teen years he was fortunate to be taught by a French musician living in San Paulo, Gabriel Giraudon.
Other French cultural influences were clearly very strong in his upbringing. The recent arrivals still spoke French in the household, Henrique having been born in France and his mother in a French-speaking part of Switzerland. His major creations as a composer were given French names, and Levy actually studied in France in 1887. His music teacher in Paris was Emile Durand, who later became famous as the mentor of composer Claude Debussy.
Upon his return to San Paulo, Levy devoted himself to composition and the cultural life of the city. He was instrumental in founding two organizations that furthered the popularity of and maintained classical music by Haydn and Mendelssohn. His accomplishments as a composer included at least 12 concertos for piano and many other compositions based on Brazilian folk music and traditional melodies, making him a pioneer in the Brazilian nationalism movement.
While obviously not in the realm of rock musicians of today, Levy was a sophisticated, experienced, and handsome young man living and working in a vibrant and highly culturally advanced city. It is not hard to imagine that he was given to living the high life, and was a part of a young crowd that followed the more Bohemian practices of similar enclaves in other great cities of the world. However, his death at 27 will remain one of the many unexplained mysteries of the forever 27 club.
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