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Paul Ben-Haim

Paul Ben-HaimPAUL BEN-HAIM (1897 – 1984) was one of the leading founders of Israeli art music. Born in Munich, Germany, as Paul Frankenburger, Mr. Ben-Haim began his musical studies at the age of 9, studying violin and then piano, harmony and counterpoint. In 1920 he graduated from the Munich Academy of Music as a conductor, composer and pianist, and then was assistant to Bruno Walter at the Munich Opera. In 1924 he became Kapellmeister of the Augsburg Opera. While in Germany he composed about 80 lieder as well as chamber and orchestral works that were very well received.

In 1929, while in Germany, Mr. Ben-Haim met and became friends with Jewish composer Heinrich Schalit, who encouraged him to write a series of Jewish-oriented choral works to biblical verses. In 1933, Mr. Ben-Haim moved to Tel Aviv, when he officially changed his name from Frankenburger to Ben-Haim and where he dedicated himself to composition and teaching at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and at the Music Teachers Training College. Notable students included the composers Ben-Zion Orgad, Ami Maayani and Noam Sheriff.

While in Palestine, Mr. Ben-Haim became interested in modern Hebrew poetry and wrote a series of Hebrew lieder to poems by Bialik, Shin Shlom, Lea Goldberg and Rahel. From 1939 until 1955 Mr. Ben-Haim collaborated with the Yemenite singer Bracha Zephira as pianist and arranger of her traditional songs, and through their partnership he became familiar with the tunes, vocal production and intonations of traditional Middle Eastern music, features he borrowed for use in his own works. His music was well received and frequently performed worldwide by great conductors and soloists, including Leonard Bernstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Jascha Heifetz and Menahem Pressler.

Mr. Ben-Haim won the Israel Prize in 1957 for the orchestral work The Sweet Psalmist of Israel (Neim Zmirot Israel) and the Engel Prize in both 1945 and 1953. He died in Tel Aviv.

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