Minna Keal

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Minna Keal, née Mina Nerenstein (22 March 1909 – 14 November 1999) was a British composer.[1] After early compositions as a student, she only returned to composing at the end of her life. Aged 80 when her music was first performed at the Proms in 1989, she experienced her return to composition as a new life:

I felt I was coming to the end of my life, but now I feel as if I'm just beginning. I feel as if I'm living my life in reverse.[2]


Mina Nerenstein was born in the East End of London, the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants from Belarus who ran a Hebrew bookselling business in Petticoat Lane. Her father died in 1926. In 1928 she entered the Royal Academy of Music, studying composition with William Alwyn. Student compositions included chamber works performed at the Academy, Whitechapel Gallery and Alexandra Palace.[2]

In 1929, aged 20, she gave up her musical study to help her mother in the family business. She married Barnett Samuel, a solicitor, had a son, Raphael (later a well-known Marxist historian), and gave up composing. During the 1930s she was active in left-wing politics, and joined the British Communist Party in 1939. On the break-up of her first marriage during the war she worked in an aircraft factory near Slough: she met Bill Keal there, and they eventually married in 1959.[2]

In the early 1970s the composer Justin Connolly, having stumbled across some of Keal's youthful music archived at the Royal Academy of Music, encouraged her to start composing again, and she took composition lessons with him. Her String Quartet, Op. 1, was completed in 1978 and first performed in 1989. The Wind Quintet, Op. 2, followed in 1980. After taking lessons with Oliver Knussen in 1982, she completed her four-movement Symphony, Op. 3, performed as a BBC broadcast in 1988 and at the BBC Proms in 1989.[3] Cantillation for violin and orchestra, Op. 4, was completed in 1988 and first performed in 1991.[2] Between 1988 and 1994 she worked on the Cello Concerto, Op. 5, which was subsequently recorded by Alexander Baillie and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins for the NMC label. On the same record is her Ballade (1929) for cello and piano, in which Alexander Baillie is accompanied by pianist Martina Baillie.


  1. ^ Obituary, The Independent Newspaper 16 November 1999. Accessed 8 June 2014
  2. ^ a b c d Sophie Fuller (1994). The Pandora guide to women composers: Britain and the United States 1629–present. Pandora. pp. 163–5. ISBN 978-0-04-440897-0.
  3. ^ The Guardian obituary 24 November 1999

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