Benjamin Frankel

Benjamin Frankel (31 January 1906  12 February 1973) was a British composer. His best known pieces include a cycle of five string quartets, eight symphonies, and 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. He was also notable for writing 100 film scores. During the last 15 years of his life, Frankel also developed his own style of 12-note composition which retained contact with tonality.


Frankel was born in London on 31 January 1906, the son of Polish Jewish parents. He began to learn 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] then 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, Frankel was in demand as an arranger and musical director in London, working with several dance bands. He wrote several popular dance band arrangements for Henry Hall's BBC Dance Orchestra, including "Learn To Croon", "Don't Blame Me", "Weep No More My Baby", "April in Paris" and "In Town Tonight". He 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 (partly) 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 Communist Party of Great Britain, but resigned his membership in protest against the Slánský trial.[3]

In 1955 Frankel 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 accused him of fraud. Frankel denied he had ever made such a 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

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, and again in 2006. A major turning point, however, came when German record company CPO (Classic Produktion Osnabrück, since bought by JPC) decided to partner with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to record Frankel's complete oeuvre.[6] This allowed for the first time an appraisal of his output. The conductor was Werner Andreas Albert.

Selected works


  • Symphony No. 1Op. 33, three movements, (first twelve-tone work?) (1958)
  • 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

  • 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 (dedicated to Hugo Rignold) (1948 – 27 December 1949)[7]
  • Mephistopheles' Serenade and Dance, Op. 25 (1952)
  • Shakespeare Overture, Op. 29
  • Overture to a Ceremony, Op. 51

Selected chamber works

  • 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 (ca. 1944 – 1945)
  • String Quartet No. 2, Op. 15, five movements (1944)
  • String Quartet No. 3, Op. 18, five movements (ca. 1947)
  • Early Morning Music, trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon, three movements (1948)
  • String Quartet No. 4, Op. 21, four movements (ca. 1949)
  • Quartet for Piano and Strings, Op. 26, three movements (issued ca. 1962 but written during 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

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

Film scores

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. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  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. Retrieved 31 January 2013
  5. David Huckvale, Hammer Film Scores and the Musical Avant-Garde, p. 54
  6. Kennaway, Dimitri (2000). The CPO recordings. MusicWeb International. Retrieved 11 September 2011
  7. Augener miniature score, manuscript facsimile, published in 1950
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