Ben Franklin finally a published composer

Written by Andrew Druckenbrod on .


Kenneth Sarch talks to
Rare Books Library
Kenneth Sarch, right, talks to "Ben Franklin" (Ralph Archbold) at the opening of the new wing in of Rare Books Library in Harrisburg, on Oct 3, 2006. His arrangement of Benjamin Franklin's String Quartetto was performed by the Mansfield University Student String Quartet.


Here's a nice update on a story I reported in 2006.

Kenneth Sarch, a professor at Mansfield University, concertmaster of the Williamsport Symphony and a conductor, arranged what he argues is a string quartet written by Benjamin Franklin around 1778 while he was living in Paris. Not only is a music composition by a founding father news (and adds further legend to just how versatile Franklin's skills were), but the work is singular, says Sarch in a release:

 "The instrumentation - three violins and cello - was not standard in the eighteenth century nor were the unusual directions given to retune all the open strings of each instrument to provide 16 different open string pitches. To play this five movement dance suite, players have to bow only open strings to create melody and harmony without left hand fingering - like a handbell choir of strings!"

Last month, Ludwig Masters Music Publications released Sarch's arrangement of three movements of Franklin's Quartetto for String Orchestra.

There is still doubt whether Franklin did write the work, which was discovered in 1945 in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris ascribed to him. "There is no mention of the Quartetto in his writing or correspondence and the manuscript is not in Franklin's handwriting," says Sarch. "However, there is nothing like it in the entire literature and I have no doubt that Franklin did compose this work to fulfill a challenge to add to his many interests and intellectual pursuits. Franklin penned a drinking song in his youth, published music, improved the Glass Harmonica (for which Mozart and Gluck wrote) and wrote an essay on the esthetics of music."

Either way, it is a strange work. Listen to it through links on my original story.

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