Paul Ben-Haim

Paul Ben-Haim


• 1897 1984


The German-born Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim attempted to forge a nationalist Israeli style after leaving Germany early in the Nazi era. His basically late Romantic music was augmented by the folk styles of what is now Israel.

Ben-Haim was born Paul Frankenburger in Munich, Germany, on July 5, 1897. He studied composition, piano, and conducting at the Munich Academy of the Arts and worked as a conductor in Augsburg for several years. Among his German works were a Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 4 (1920), and a Concerto Grosso for orchestra (1931). Hoping to devote full time to composition, he returned to Munich but saw his opportunities diminishing as Nazi influence rose because of his Jewish background. In 1933, he moved to Tel Aviv, then part of British Palestine. Shortly after moving he adopted the name Paul Ben-Haim, and he became an Israeli citizen when the country was founded in 1948. Ben-Haim's essentially late Romantic music took on a more local flavor after he moved to the Middle East, and, following the example of Bartók, worked to notate local vernacular musics and to incorporate it into his own style. His Symphony No. 1 (1940) reflected the outbreak of war in Europe in its somber tone.

In the years after independence, Ben-Haim was Israel's most prominent composer. He received the Israel Prize for Music in 1957, and The Sweet Psalmist of Israel, a concerto for harp, harpsichord, was programmed by Leonard Bernstein two years later. Ben-Haim continued to compose until being injured in an auto accident in 1972. He was especially influential as an educator, serving as director of the Jerusalem Academy of Music from 1949 to 1954, and teaching at conservatories there and in Tel Aviv. Among his students were conductor Eliahu Inbal and composer Shulamit Ran. Ben-Haim died in Tel Aviv on January 14, 1984.