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Benjamin Frankel

Benjamin Frankel (31 January 1906 – 12 February 1973) was a British composer.

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, 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).

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.

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. Clark's wife Elisabeth Lutyens ever after referred to Frankel as "composer and ex-colleague".

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.



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