Paul Ben-Haim was born in 1897 as Paul Frankenburger in Munich. His father, Heinrich, was a lawyer and the vice-president of the Jewish Congregation in Munich. Ben-Haim studied Piano and Composition from 1915 onwards at the Munich Academy of Musical Arts. But his studies were interrupted in 1916 when he was drafted for the war. In 1920 he became a répétiteur at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. Four years later he obtained the post of Music Director at the Augsburg Opera, where he conducted a plethora of works.
Along with his activities as conductor, Ben-Haim composed chamber music and works for chorus and orchestra. It was the composer Heinrich Schalit who convinced him to write sacred chorales to Biblical texts, and in 1931 he achieved a notable success with a setting of Psalm 126. Some months later he was relieved of his position in Augsburg, but because of prevailing anti-Semitism he found it impossible to find a new one.
In October 1933 Paul Frankenburger emigrated to Palestine, where he Hebraized his name to Paul Ben-Haim. Here he became cofounder of a new school of Jewish composers all of whom had fled Europe. From 1946 on he taught Composition at the Music Academy in Jerusalem and at the Music Teachers’ College in Tel Aviv, helping train an entire generation of Israeli composers. Ben-Haim received commissions from around the world; his Sonata in G for solo violin for example was written for Yehudi Menuhin. In 1968 Paul Ben-Haim received the Federal Cross of Merit First Class in Germany.
In 1972 he was invited by the Mayor of his birthplace, Munich, to attend celebrations marking his 75th birthday. During his visit he was the victim of a traffic accident, the consequences of which kept him bound to a wheelchair until his death in 1984.