Partner Jack Henderson
1716 Drummond Dr, Vancouver, BC V6T 1B6, Canada
Arthur Leslie Benjamin (18 September 1893, in Sydney – 10 April 1960, in London) was an Australian composer, pianist, conductor and teacher. In the twentieth century, in the wake of the first waves of homosexual liberation movemens, composers became more open about their private lives. A number of European composers were reputedly gay, including Maurice Ravel, Reynaldo Hahn, Karol Szymanowski, and Francis Poulenc; the avant-garde had a huge share of gay composers, including Wolfgang Fortner, Hans Werner Henze, Sylvano Bussotti, Peter Maxwell Davies, Karel Goeyvaerts, Jean Barraqué, Konrad Boehmer, and Pierre Boulez. English composers who were reputedly gay include Roger Quilter, John Ireland, George Butterworth, Arthur Benjamin, Eugene Goosens, and Noël Coward; two of the most important English composers, Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett, both achieved particular notoriety for being openly gay (although each handled it very differently).
In an article by Pamela Blevins, Benjamin's homosexuality is identified. In 1912 Benjamin met Ivor Gurney, English poet and composer. Benjamin was a well-to-do Australian, three years younger than Gurney: "He was outgoing, cheerful and an enthusiastic companion who revelled in the good fortune of his friends. He was also a homosexual, and many years later said he believed that Gurney possessed the same tendencies. Benjamin seemed to have insights into Gurney and an understanding of his behaviour that could only have come from astute observation and from what Gurney himself confided in him."
Benjamin's most impressive and perhaps most important work is the
Pastorale, Arioso and Finale.
It is written in a chromatic style that is perfectly approachable, if a
little idiosyncratic. The work was composed in 1943 whilst Benjamin was in
Benjamin is best known as the composer of Jamaican Rumba (1938) and of the Storm Clouds Cantata, featured in both versions of the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man who Knew Too Much (1934), (1956).
Arthur Benjamin was born in Sydney on 18 September 1893 into a Jewish family, although he was a non-practicing Jew. His parents moved to Brisbane when Arthur was three years old. At the age of six, he made his first public appearance as a pianist and his formal musical training began three years later with George Sampson, the Organist of St John's Cathedral and Brisbane City Organist. In 1911, Benjamin won a scholarship from Brisbane Grammar School to the Royal College of Music (RCM), where he studied composition with Charles Villiers Stanford, harmony and counterpoint with Thomas Dunhill, and piano with Frederic Cliffe.
In 1914 he joined the Officer Training Corps, receiving a temporary commission in April 1915. He served initially in the infantry as 2nd Lieutenant with the 32nd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and in November 1917 he was attached to the Royal Flying Corps. On 31 July 1918 his aircraft was shot down over Germany by the young Hermann Göring, and he spent the remainder of the war as a German prisoner of war at Ruhleben internment camp near Berlin. There he met the composer Edgar Bainton, who had been interned since 1914, and who was later to become director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music.
The manuscript of the unpublished Violin Sonata in E minor bears the date 1918, the only surviving work of that year and one of very few to be written by Benjamin during the war.
He returned to Australia in 1919 and became piano professor at the NSW State Conservatorium of Music, Sydney. He returned to England in 1921 to become piano professor at the RCM. Following his appointment in 1926 to a professorship which he held for the next thirteen years at the RCM, Benjamin developed a distinguished career as a piano teacher. His better-known students from that era include Muir Mathieson, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Miriam Hyde, Joan Trimble, Stanley Bate, Bernard Stevens, Lamar Crowson, Alun Hoddinott, Dorian Le Gallienne, Natasha Litvin (later Stephen Spender's wife and a prominent concert pianist), William Blezard and Benjamin Britten, whose Holiday Diary suite for solo piano is dedicated to Benjamin and mimics many of his teacher's mannerisms.
He continued writing chamber works for the next few years – Three Pieces for violin and piano (1919–24); Three Impressions (voice and string quartet, 1919); Five Pieces for Cello (1923); Pastoral Fantasy (string quartet, 1924), which won a Carnegie Award that year; Sonatina (violin and piano, 1924).
Orchestral works became more common after 1927 – Rhapsody on Negro Themes (MS 1919); Concertino for piano and orchestra (1926/7); Light Music Suite (1928); Overture to an Italian Comedy (1937); Cotillon Suite (1938). There also appeared over twenty meticulously crafted songs and choral settings.
He was also an adjudicator and examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, which led him to places such as Australia, Canada and the West Indies. It was in the West Indies that he discovered the native tune (Mango Walk) on which he based his best-known piece, Jamaican Rumba, one of Two Jamaican Pieces, composed in 1938, for which the Jamaican government gave him a free barrel of rum a year as thanks for making their country known.
The Violin Concerto of 1932 was premiered by Antonio Brosa with Benjamin conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In 1935 he accompanied the 10-year-old Canadian cellist Lorne Munroe on a concert tour of Europe. Three years later he wrote a Sonatina for Munroe, who later became the principal cellist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, and also recorded the piece.
His Romantic Fantasy for Violin, Viola and Orchestra was premiered by Eda Kersey and Bernard Shore in 1938, under the composer. Its first recording was by Jascha Heifetz and William Primrose.
He resigned from his post at the RCM and left to settle in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where he remained for the duration of the war. In 1941 he was appointed conductor of the newly formed CBC Symphony Orchestra, holding the post until 1946. During this time he gave "literally hundreds" of Canadian first performances. After a series of radio talks and concerts in addition to music teaching, conducting and composing, he became a major figure in Canadian musical life. He frequently visited the United States, broadcasting and arranging many performances of contemporary British music. He was also Resident Lecturer at Reed College, Portland, Oregon between 1944 and 1945. Notable students include composer Pamela Harrison.
The Elegiac Mazurka of 1941 was commissioned as part of the memorial volume 'Homage to Paderewski' in honour of the Polish pianist who had died that year. In 1945 a shortened piano solo arrangement of the Jamaican Rumba was published.
The other major original works written during the 1950s were the Harmonica Concerto (1953), written for Larry Adler, who performed it many times and recorded it at least twice; the ballet Orlando's Silver Wedding (1951), Tombeau de Ravel for clarinet and piano, a second string quartet (1959) and the Wind Quintet (1960). He had a lasting admiration for Maurice Ravel, whose influence is most obvious in Tombeau de Ravel and the much earlier Suite of 1926 for piano solo.
He was honoured by the Worshipful Company of Musicians by the award of the Cobbett Medal later that year (1957).
His private students included John Carmichael.
Arthur Benjamin died on 10 April 1960, at the age of 66, at the Middlesex Hospital, London, from a re-occurrence of the cancer that had first attacked him three years earlier. An alternative explanation of the immediate cause of death is hepatitis, contracted while Benjamin and his partner, Jack Henderson, a Canadian who worked in the music publishing business, were holidaying with the Australian painter Donald Friend in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). After his death his estate fell to his devoted companion Jack Henderson who died in October 1995.
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