Sometime in the last year, I bought a Vox budget CD set The Early String Quartet in the U.S.A. I probably played it once as background, ripped it to MP3 and forgot about it. So, tonight, I am listening to nothing in particular and then I hear some appealing, pleasant, albeit older and not very well recorded, string quartet music. My first thought was it was from the excellent Kronos Early Music CD. But no, I don't recognize what I am hearing from that CD. So, I check iTunes. The artist is the Kohon String Quartet, whom I don't recognize. Then, I look at the composer and it says Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin? Investigator of electricity and American diplomat Benjamin Franklin? Was this really written by the famous Philadelphian? A quick check of my iTunes library finds five more Franklin tracks (four Ben and one Aretha) but that doesn't answer the queston. I don't have the CD liner notes handy, and some quick googling doesn't reveal anything definitive. H. Wiley Hitchcock in Music in the United States: A Historical Introduction indicates it was not by him but I can't check Strubel right now (although Amazon has the index which references Franklin). And I don't feel like paying for the Digital TermPaper on Benjamin Franklin. Philomel Baroque does have some good program notes describing Franklin's musical activities. Finally, AffordableArts talks about composing for friends and mentions Franklin as an example:
He had friends who couldn’t play a note but loved music so he wrote a quartet that was to be played on open strings only. The instruments were tuned differently for each movement.
And interestingly, Charles Shere suggests an ideal program of John Cage's String Quartet in Four Parts (which is on the Kronos CD), Franklin's Quartet, and the Ruth Crawford Seeger Quartet.
Amazon samples (as tracks 10-14 on disk 1). Coming to this via some inherent musical appeal rather than as an examination of some pre-ordained historical artifact makes my day.