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Benjamin Frankel

FRANKEL, BENJAMIN (1906–1973), British composer. Born in London, the son of a synagogue beadle too poor to give him a musical education, Frankel left school to work as a watchmaker's apprentice. Although largely self-educated, he managed to gain six months of piano study with Victor Benham in Berlin and Cologne as part of the exchange program after World War I. At the age of 17, he returned to London to earn his living as a piano teacher, café pianist, and jazz violinist, studying during the day at the Guildhall School of Music and eventually winning a composition scholarship there; in 1946 he returned to the Guildhall School as a composition teacher. He was a theater conductor (in, for example, Noel Coward revues) and orchestrator until 1931, when he completed his first film score; thereafter he was to write more than 100 scores for documentaries and stories such as The Man in the White Suit, The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Battle of the Bulge. As if in reaction, his "serious" works were written in a very different style from his commercial music, often being uncompromising in idiom. He wrote a violin concerto (1951) for Max Rostal in memory of "the Six Million," eight symphonies (all in the last 14 years of his life), and four string quartets. In the String Trio No. 2 (1958) he seemed to have found a convincing solution to the problems of serialism that had interested him; thereafter most of his works showed the use of the 12-note technique. Frankel's other works include sonatas for unaccompanied violin and cello; Sonata ebraica, for cello and harp; Élégie juive, for cello and piano; The Aftermath, for tenor, trumpet, and strings; Passacaglia, for two pianos; and many other piano pieces. He was at work on the opera Marching Song (commissioned by the Stuyvesant Foundation) at the time of his death.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.