Benjamin Frankel : British composer of string quartets, symphonies and concertos

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.

Born in London to parents of Polish-Jewish origin. His apprenticeship to a watchmaker at the age of 14 lasted for only about a year when his pianistic talents attracted the attention of the American pianist Victor Benham who persuaded his parents to allow him to study music full-time.

The transformation of Benjamin Frankel is one of the most remarkable phenomena of twentieth century music. He first came to the public notice between the wars as a jazz and club musician and composer of music for films and reviews of a predominantly flippant nature, yet long before his untimely death in February 1973 he was one of the most respected and admired of symphonists.

On his death, a twenty year long period of almost complete neglect was eventually terminated by the decision of a German record company, cpo, assisted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, to record his entire output. This made it possible for the BBC to make him Composer of the Week in late 1996 and for such comments as the following to appear :

“Our neglect of Benjamin Frankel is not something we can be proud of … The two symphonies in this enterprising disc are outstanding examples of his work, colourfully scored and pungently concise …” [Michael Kennedy, Sunday Telegraph 5th June 1994]

The Violin Concerto, which made Benjamin Frankel’s name with the concert public when it was premiered in 1951 is inscribed “In memory of the six million”.

The slow movement of the concerto is elegiac, expressing sadness but also with lyricism.  There is little of horror or bitterness here.  However, there is an edge to the witty scherzo and something of sobriety to the expressive first movement.  The finale’s violin line of lovely, hovering grace turns into a light-hearted, even high-spirited waltz. It is a work with a grieving centre, but not as a Requiem.

The Viola Concerto of 1967 is, I think, even finer.

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