Arthur Frackenpohl

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The work of American composer Arthur Frackenpohl has for years sought to raise the status of music through education. Born in Irvington, NJ, he graduated with distinction from the Eastman School at the…
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The work of American composer Arthur Frackenpohl has for years sought to raise the status of music through education. Born in Irvington, NJ, he graduated with distinction from the Eastman School at the University of Rochester in 1947. Continuing his study there with Bernard Rogers, he received his master's degree two years later. His further work with Darius Milhaud at the 1948 Berkshire Music Festival and with Nadia Boulanger at the Ecoles d'Art Americaines in 1950 further encouraged his pursuits. Like seemingly every American composer for successive generations, his studies with Boulanger gave him a clearer artistic vision; he received a first prize in composition while in France.

His studies were completed at McGill University in Montreal with the reception of a doctor of musical arts in 1957. Meanwhile he had joined the faculty at the Crane School of Music at State University of New York in Potsdam in 1949, where he was professor of music and coordinator of keyboard courses. He was made a full professor in 1961, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1985, upon which he was named professor emeritus. During his tenure there, he would receive five research fellowships for his work. Overseeing the keyboard classes at S.U.N.Y.-Potsdam also prompted Frackenpohl's textbook Harmonization at the Piano. Published in 1962, it had received six editions by 1990, testament to its popularity.

Indeed, pedagogical pursuits became the focus of Frackenpohl's work as musician and composer. A 1959 Ford Foundation grant led to his appointment as composer-in-residence for the public school system of Hempstead, NY. His compositions for band and orchestra have long been popular in school ensembles for the way in which they blend the difficult and the playable, the demanding and the accessible. To this end of promoting music in schools, he has arranged a considerable amount of music from all eras, including Di Lasso, Bach, Beethoven, and Joplin, for a variety of ensembles.

Frackenpohl's more than 250 compositions display a variety of approaches, though almost always within a tonal idiom. Earlier in his career, he frequently composed for voice, including several song cycles, and keyboard; his legacy appears, however, to lie in the variety of works he has written or arranged for chamber ensembles, particularly brass and wind groups. His cantata for female voices on Jean Pearson's poem The Natural Superiority of Men displays his sense of humor while the chamber opera Domestic Relations, based on O. Henry's story Harlem Tragedy, reveals a capability for achieving a range of emotion. A frequently decorated composer by the American Society for Composers and Performers, he and his wife, Mary Ellen Frackenpohl, raised four children.