James Friskin (3 March 1886, in Glasgow – 16 March 1967, in New York City) was a Scottish-born pianist, composer and music teacher who relocated to the United States in 1914.

James Friskin
Born3 March 1886
Died16 March 1967
NationalityScottish, American
OccupationClassical music pianist, composer and teacher


Friskin studied in Glasgow with local organist Alfred Heap, and from 1900 (aged only 14) at the Royal College of Music under Edward Dannreuther for piano and (from 1905) Charles Villiers Stanford for composition.[1] He completed his Piano Quintet in 1907 at the age of 21 and it was published by Stainer & Bell. Thomas Dunhill assessed it as "one of the most brilliant op.1's in existence".[2] After completing his studies, from 1909 to 1914 he taught at the Royal Normal College for the Blind. In 1914, he emigrated to the United States, where, at the invitation of Frank Damrosch he became a founding teacher the Institute of Musical Arts, forerunner of the Juilliard School of Music. He continued teaching at Juilliard until his death.[1]

While still at the Royal College, Friskin first met the composer and violist Rebecca Clarke (1886–1979). Friskin and Clarke, along with George Butterworth, formed a small choir to explore the works of Palestrina, asking Vaughan Williams to direct them.[1] His 1912 Elegy for viola and piano might have been written with Clarke in mind.[3] Over thirty years later they were married in New York City (on 23 September 1944), both aged 58, following a chance reunion.[4][5]

In 1925, he was the first pianist to perform J. S. Bach's Goldberg Variations in the United States,[6] and in 1934, he performed both books of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier in two New York recitals.[6] He eventually recorded the Goldberg Variations in 1956, a year after Glenn Gould's celebrated recording.[7][8] His obituarist in The New York Times wrote, "he became known as a Bach specialist long before others began specializing in baroque composers", and "he doesn't exaggerate or distort the music and plays Bach in a way that goes to the heart of the music. Friskin was not pedantic in his approach to Bach. Nor was he overly Romantic, an accusation that has been levelled at some of his more famous contemporaries."[6]

His early promise as a composer was stifled by his activities as a teacher and performer[9] and he appears to have given up composing soon after his move to the United States. The early Piano Quintet was followed by a series of Phantasie chamber works written for the Cobbett chamber music competitions, including a piano trio,[10][11] a string quartet and another piano quintet.[12][13] The Piano Sonata, perhaps his last major work, dates from 1915. The composer returned to London to perform it at the Wigmore Hall in November, 1920.[14] There were also a handful of orchestral works, including a Piano Concerto which remained in manuscript and which has apparently been lost.[15]


These include:[15][16]

  • Ballade in C major for piano
  • Cello Sonata in F major
  • Concert Overture
  • Elegy for viola (or clarinet) and piano (1912)[12]
  • Impromptu for cello and piano
  • Nocturne in E flat for piano
  • Phantasy for string quartet, winner of a Cobbett Prize in 1906 [12]
  • Phantasy for piano trio in E minor[10]
  • Phantasy Quintet (for piano, 2 violins, viola and cello) (1910 or 1912)[12]
  • Piano Concerto
  • Piano Quartet in G minor
  • Piano Quintet in C minor, op 1 (1907) [12]
  • Romance for cello and piano
  • Romance for violin and piano
  • Scherzo for cello and piano
  • Sonata for piano in A minor
  • Suite in D minor
  • Three Pieces for piano
  • Three Sacred Motets for unaccompanied five-part chorus
  • Violin Sonata in G major


  • Friskin, James (7 August 2014) [1921]. The Principles of Pianoforte Practice. Literary Licensing, LLC. ISBN 978-1498169189.
  • Friskin, James; Freundlich, Irwin (17 February 2011) [1954]. Music for the Piano: A Handbook of Concert and Teaching Material from 1580 to 1952 (Revised ed.). Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0486229188.


  1. ^ a b c Wellington, Christopher. Notes to Numbus CD 6182 (2011)
  2. ^ Foreman, Lewis: From Parry to Britten: British Music in Letters, 1900-1945 (1987), p 36
  3. ^ Classical.Net
  4. ^ "James Friskin (Piano, Arranger)". bach-cantatas.com. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  5. ^ Curtis, Liane. A Rebecca Clarke Reader (2004) p 212
  6. ^ a b c "Obituary of James Friskin". The New York Times. March 1967.
  7. ^ bach-cantatas.com
  8. ^ YouTube
  9. ^ Doyle, John G. Friskin, James, in Grove Music Online (2001)
  10. ^ a b English Piano Trios: Bridge, Friskin, Ireland, Moeran. BMS 418CD (2007)
  11. ^ MusicWeb International review
  12. ^ a b c d e James Friskin: Chamber Music. Nimbus 6182 (2012)
  13. ^ MusicWeb International review
  14. ^ The Times, 13 November 1920, p 8
  15. ^ a b "Unsung Composers: James Friskin 1886–1967". Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  16. ^ Free scores by James Friskin at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)

External linksEdit