Benjamin Frankel

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Benjamin Frankel (31 January 1906 – 12 February 1973) was a British composer. Frankel's most famous pieces include a cycle of five string quartets and eight symphonies as well as a number of concertos for violin and viola; his single best-known piece is probably the First Sonata for Solo Violin, which, like his concertos, resulted from a long association with Max Rostal. During the last 15 years of his life, Frankel also developed his own style of 12-note composition that retained contact with tonality.


Frankel was born in London on 31 January 1906, the son of Polish-Jewish parents. He started learning the violin at an early age, showing remarkable talent; at age 14, his piano-playing gifts attracted the attention of Victor Benham, who persuaded his parents to let him study music full-time. He spent six months in Germany in 1922,[1] but quickly returned to London, where he won a scholarship from the Worshipful Company of Musicians and attempted his first serious compositions while earning his income as a jazz violinist, pianist and arranger. Known then as Ben Frankel, his jazz work can be heard on recordings by Fred Elizalde's band.

By the early 1930s, Ben Frankel was in high demand as an arranger and musical director in London, working with several dance bands. He wrote many particularly fine dance band arrangements for Henry Hall's BBC Dance Orchestra, for example recordings of 'Learn To Croon', 'Don't Blame Me', 'Weep No More My Baby', 'April In Paris' and 'In Town Tonight'. Ben Frankel wrote many arrangements and scores for theatre and film music but gave up theatre work in 1944. He did, however, retain an interest in film composing until his death, writing over 100 scores. These included the first British serial film score, to The Curse of the Werewolf (1961).[2]

Frankel also became widely known as a serious composer after World War II; his first work to gain fame was the violin concerto dedicated "in memory of 'the six million'", a reference to the Jews murdered during the Holocaust, commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain and first performed by Max Rostal. From 1941 till 1952 he was a member of the British Communist Party, but resigned his membership in protest at the Prague show-trials.[3]

In 1955, he succeeded Edward Clark as Chairman of the ISCM. That year issues arose about certain expenses Clark had claimed while he was Chairman. Clark alleged that Frankel had falsely accused him of fraud. Frankel denied he had ever made any such claim, but nevertheless said that such a claim, had he made it, would have been true. This amounted to slander as far as Clark was concerned, and he sued Frankel in the High Court. While Frankel's alleged slander itself was unproven, the jury exonerated Clark of any wrongdoing and he felt this meant his integrity was intact.[4] Clark's wife Elisabeth Lutyens ever after referred to Frankel as "composer and ex-colleague".[5]

Frankel died in London on 12 February 1973 while working on the three-act opera Marching Song and a ninth symphony, which had been commissioned by the BBC. When he died, Marching Song had been completed in short score; it was orchestrated by Buxton Orr, a composer who had studied with Frankel and whose advocacy has been at least partly responsible for the revival of interest in his works.

Posthumous reputation[edit]

In the twenty years following his death, Frankel's works were almost completely neglected. In 1996, BBC Radio 3 featured him as the Composer of the Week, allowing many people a first opportunity to hear his music (they did so again in 2006). A major turning point, however, came when a German record company CPO (Classic Produktion Osnabrück, since bought by JPC) decided to record his entire output with the help of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.[6] This has allowed, for the first time, an appraisal of his output. The conductor was Werner Andreas Albert.

A selection of works[edit]


  • Symphony No. 1Op. 33, three movements, 1958 (first twelve-tone work?)
  • Symphony No. 2 — Op. 38, three movements, 1962
  • Symphony No. 3 — Op. 40, one movement, 1964
  • Symphony No. 4 — Op. 44, three movements, 1966
  • Symphony No. 5 — Op. 46, three movements, 1967
  • Symphony No. 6 — Op. 49, five movements, 1969
  • Symphony No. 7 — Op. 50, four movements, 1970
  • Symphony No. 8 — Op. 53, four movements, 1971


  • Violin concerto To the memory of the six million, Op. 24, four movements, 1951
  • Serenata Concertante for piano trio and orchestra, one movement (in parts), Op. 37, 1960
  • Viola concerto, Op. 45, three movements, 1967

Other orchestral and small-orchestra works (selected)[edit]

  • Three sketches for strings (originally for quartet), Op. 2, 1920s?
  • Solemn Speech and Discussion, Op. 11
  • Youth Music, four pieces for small orchestra, Op. 12
  • May Day (a panorama, prelude for orchestra), Op. 22, 1948 – 1949 December 27 (dedicated to Hugo Rignold) [7]
  • Mephistopheles Serenade and Dance, Op. 25, 1952
  • Shakespeare Overture, Op. 29
  • Overture to a Ceremony, Op. 51

Selected chamber works[edit]

  • Three piano studies, Op. 1, 1926
  • String trio no. 1, Op. 3
  • Sonata for viola solo, Op. 7 (early 1930s)
  • Trio for clarinet, cello and piano, Op. 10, three movements, 1940
  • Violin solo sonata No. 1, Op. 13 (before 1943)
  • String quartet No. 1, Op. 14, four movements, around 1944–5
  • String quartet No. 2, Op. 15, five movements, 1944
  • String quartet No. 3, Op. 18, five movements, around 1947
  • Early Morning Music, trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon, three movements, 1948
  • String quartet No. 4, Op. 21, four movements, around 1949?
  • Quartet for piano and strings, Op. 26, three movements ((c) 1962 but written sometime in the 1950s?)
  • Quintet for clarinet and strings, Op. 28, three movements, 1956
  • Inventions in Major/Minor modes, cello and piano, Op. 31
  • String trio No. 2, Op. 34, three movements, (c) 1960 (?)
  • Cinque Pezzi Notturni for eleven instruments, Op. 35, five pieces, 1959
  • Violin solo sonata No. 2, Op. 39, three movements, 1962
  • Pezzi pianissimi for clarinet cello and piano, Op. 41, four pieces, 1964
  • String quartet No. 5, Op. 43, five movements, 1965

Vocal works[edit]

  • The Aftermath, Op. 17
  • Eight songs, Op. 32, 1959

Film scores[edit]

The symphonies, concerti, quartets, and a few other works have been among the works recorded so far by cpo, as well as some film scores (a few works were available on LP, and the clarinet quintet has a CD alternative.)


  1. ^ "Biography". Retrieved July 2013. 
  2. ^ David Huckvale, Hammer Film Scores and the Musical Avant-Garde, Introduction, p.4
  3. ^ According to The Evening Standard of 12 December 1952
  4. ^ Jennifer Doctor, 'Clark, (Thomas) Edward (1888–1962)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 31 Jan 2013
  5. ^ David Huckvale, Hammer Film Scores and the Musical Avant-Garde, p. 54
  6. ^ Kennaway, Dimitri (2000). The CPO recordings. MusicWeb International. Retrieved 2011-09-11.
  7. ^ Augener miniature score, manuscript facsimile, published in 1950.

External links[edit]