Minna Keal

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Years: 1909-1999

Place of birth: England

Minna Keal was born in the East End of London in 1909, the daughter of Russian-Jewish emigrants. In 1928, at the age of 19, she began her musical studies at the Royal Academy of London.
Sadly, her life took an unexpected turn and she had to droped out her music career due to the death of her father to help the family business. For more than 40 years she left her talent for composition in the dust of oblivion.
We suggest listening to the Cello Concerto "Ballade Man" while you continue reading:
Her considerable energies were absorbed by her demanding roles as wife, mother, and businesswoman. During the war, she set up an organization to get Jewish children out of Germany. She joined the communist party for serveral years. In 1973, one of her piano students had to be examined by Justin Connolly, and out of curiosity he asked to see the compositions that Minna had archived. He was so impressed that he convinced her to resume composition career, and by 1975 Minna was already a student of Connolly.

Minna Keal was 80 years old by the time her first orchestral work was performed at the BBC Proms. “I felt I was coming to the end of my life, but now I know that this is just the beginning. I feel as if I'm living my life in reverse.” (1)
1 - BBC, Minna Keal.
A Life in Reverse

“The problem with growing old is that you gather so many memories, you eventually run out of space to store them. Thoughts and contemplations from many years ago rise up and enclose me in a thick copse of trees, wishes that didn’t come true hanging from them like exotic fruit. I reach out to pull one from a branch and peek inside its hard, broken shell – there is nothing there besides the faint whiff of devastation and heartbreak.”

Minna discovered her gifts and abilites once she retired and had the oportunity to have them recognized. There are other authors from different artistic fields who have found themselves in similar circumstances, but who have also managed to achieve their goals. “Don't give up, that's the key. Because old age is not incompatible with boldness. We must aspire to die very alive." (2)

A life in reverse A life in reverse was a documentary of her musical career promoted by the BBC in 1992. In addition, A life in Reverse: The music of Minna Keal is an album in which works works by the composer are collected. (3)

Respect does not come just from society, it also comes from oneself. Minna Keal represents how people must listen to themselves and shows how even when it is “late”, you can find a moment to let creativity flow. Returning to composition after 46 years Minna builds her own language.

2 - A life in reverse: the music of Minna Keal (1996). BBC. Lorelt. 3 - Rosa Montero (2016): Morir muy vivos. El País.
Her music

When she started composing again, Minna returned to the same style as in her final years as a composer in the 1920s. But she began to realize that she wanted to speak a more contemporary music language.

The String Quartet was her first piece since she resumed writing after an interrumption of forty-six years. “It was intended to contrast the restlessness of human activity with the serenity found in nature; but this have been expressed in the character of the two main themes - a descending figure and a slower, melodic line from which the four movements are derived - the piece took on a life of its own without an explicit program.” (4)

The Wind Quintet was a new attempt to compose in a more contemporary way. For this five-movement piece, she worked out with five different musical phrases. They formed the base on which the piece was built. “I have a strong sense of the color of particular instruments. When I am composing the initial sketch it is difficult. Curiously, when my music has been performed, it sounds better than what I had in my head and it should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? " (5)

Her next work was Symphony. This was originally planned as an orchestral suite in five movements, three of them based on poems by her husband. However, once she began to compose, the music took on a life of its own and the symphony ended with four movements instead of five. Furthermore, she realized that she should not be related to any extra-musical idea that was not the general expression of the turmoil of human existence and the spiritual search for serenity and permanence.

Cantillation for Violin and Orchestra was intended as a ten minute piece for a small orchestra. Finally, it became a kind of twelve-minute one-movement violin concerto. It has an almost dramatic lyrical character with sections that are not separated from each other, but vary in character and tempo.

In Cello Concerto she uses a twelve note scale with a certain freedom, where thematic growth is always more important than the academic techniques. In fact, fifths and octaves are likely to be found in your scores, as she used whatever means necessary to get to the effects she wanted to achieve. This concerto is a continuation of Cantillation in terms of its Jewish influences that seem to manifest itself in her string writing.
4 - (1994) Minna Keal, 11:1, 167-171. 5 - (1994) Minna Keal, 11:1, 167-171.

- Fantasy String Quartet (1929)
- Ballade for Cello and Piano (1929)
- Lament (1978): When she resumed composing, she saw herself as the "night of her life." She then composed Lament in a style that Justin Connolly described as Skryabin’s.
- String Quartet, Op. 1 (1978)
- Wind Quintet, op. 2 (1980)
- Symphony, op. 3 (1987)
- Cantillation, op. 4 (1988)
- Cello Concerto, op. 5 (1994)
- Duettino, op. 6 (1996).

- Minna Keal: Cello Concerto (1988-94) - Ballade for Cello and Piano (1929), Alexaner Baillie (cello), Martina Baillie (piano), BBC Scottish Orchestra (conductor: Martyn Brabbins). - NMC (2) D0485 1997
- Minna Keal: La Viola(1929) - Rebecca Clarke, Fernande Decruck, Lillian Fuchs, Pamela Harrison,Louise Adolpha Le Beau, Marcelle Soulage, Hillary Herndon, Wei-Chun Bernadette Lo- MSR Classics MS 1416 2012
- A Life in Reverse: The Music of Minna Keal, Stephen Bryant (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra (conductor: Nicolas Cleobury), Lontano, Odaline de la Martinez, Lorelt LNT 110.
- Miriam's Song: Music by Jewish Women Composers, Duo Kalinowsky, Zuk Records, 2010.

Discover more

The Pandora Guide to Women Composers
By Sophie Fuller (1994)

Sophie Fuller's book that shows information on different women composers from the United Kingdom and the United States, from the year 1629 to the contemporary period. She examines the reasons why they have been neglected and she locates both the lives of these women and their music.