A timeless US pianist has passed away

A timeless US pianist has passed away


norman lebrecht

December 27, 2014

Claude Frank, a pianist of timeless values, died today, friends reported. He turned 89 on Christmas Eve.

Nuremberg born, Claude reached the US in 1941. He studied there with Schnabel, his son Karl-Ulrich, and his student Maria Curcio.

He was a towering interpreter of the Beethoven sonatas and often appeared as a piano duo with his wife, Lilian Kalir, who died in 2004. Their daughter, Pamela, is a distinguished violinist and teacher.

Our sympathies to her and the rest of the family.

Frank Claude

A colleague’s memories here.

Claude at his most mischievous here.


  • Kari Lövaas says:

    A Mozartnight on Hanukkah with the Haifasymphony in 1991.
    Claude Frank played one of the pianoconcerti and I did Mozart
    Concert arias and I felt that on that night Mozart himself was
    present when Claude played.
    Outstanding warm hearted human being and exceptional
    sensitive, great pianist.
    Thank you, Claude Frank

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    A man, a husband, a father, a musician at the highest level. Requiescat in Pace.

  • […] very sorry to read of the death of Claude Frank. I have many wonderful memories of playing Mozart with him, as well as with his late wife (who died […]

  • Richard Ozanne says:

    Wonderfully touching and warm Beethoven interpretations. He will be missed. Condolences to the family.

  • Steve Blevins says:

    Sad, sad news. Legendary pianist — and piano teacher — Claude Frank died today. Mr. Frank taught at the Curtis Institute and at Yale. I’ll never forget the weekend he came to Oklahoma City to perform. His gracious manner and divine touch at the keyboard will be long remembered. His entire program was in the key of C minor: Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata, Mozart’s “Fantasia,” Schubert’s Sonata No. 19, and Beethoven’s Sonata Opus 111. Music-making of the highest caliber — and worthy of his great instructor, Artur Schnabel. RIP, fair prince:

  • Sarah Steinhardt says:

    A great artist, and a good and kind man. The world is a better place, the music world a better place, for his life and work.

  • Boring Fileclerk says:

    Very sad to hear! He was a wonderful man and artist.

  • Annabelle Weidenfeld says:

    Very sad news indeed. I have cherished memories hearing him first as a child when he played regularly with Harry Blech and the London Mozart Players and he had the most wonderful relaxed way of playing, sitting back as the music just poured out of him in the most natural way. I never heard an ugly sound or unmusical phrase from him and I last heard him playing Beethoven Piano and Violin Sonatas with his daughter, Pamela, at Wigmore some years ago. He was a member of the Jury of the Rubinstein Competition in Israel in 2008 and that was when I last saw him. Many students of his tell me he was a wonderful teacher and he was a very sweet man. Many condolences to Pamela and may he rest in peace.

  • Patrick says:

    Such a moving video….

  • Stephen Manes says:

    Very sad news. I first knew Claude when he arrived, I think around 1948, to teach at Bennington College, when I was eight years old!

  • Margaret Wenig says:

    I can’t find notice of Claude Frank’s death anywhere but here. Not even on the Curtis web site. No obituaries… No official announcement…

    • Boring Fileclerk says:

      Margaret, I believe that both institutions are in the midst of their winter breaks. They will most likely formal announce it next week.

  • John O'Conor says:

    I adored Claude. I first met him when we were on the jury of the Leeds Competition in 1990 and we quickly became close. I felt privileged to know this legendary man who immediately treated me like an old friend. He was like that – it was easy to fall under his spell. He was a gentleman of the old school and reminded me so much of my father who always treated everyone with great respect and rarely said a bad word about anyone. Claude was also a wonderful teacher and all his students loved him. As one of them told me he never tried to dominate them but would encourage them to develop their own ideas and yet would always manage to steer them in the right direction. We met on many international competition juries and quickly discovered a mutual love of bridge. Our first task on any jury was to find another two with whom to play. When Fanny Waterman discovered that we were playing bridge each evening of the Leeds Competition she tried to put a stop to it as she said that we would be discussing the competitors who had played that day which we were not supposed to do. I assured her that if anybody mentioned piano playing while we were playing bridge they were forced to buy a round of drinks for everyone there !!

    My favourite Claude story is when Harold Schonberg was also on the Leeds jury. Claude was unfailingly polite to him and after a few days Harold was emboldened to say to Claude “I remember you playing with the New York Philharmonic in 1952 and you never played with them again. Why was that?” Claude never raised his voice but gently answered “Because of your review Harold I was never invited again.” There was a silence and soon afterwards Harold decided he was going to bed. I turned to Claude and said “How long have you wanted to say that to him ?” Claude smiled and said with great feeling “Since 1952” !!

    A beautiful man. I will never forget him.

  • Terrence Wilson says:

    I had the most humbling and rewarding priveledge to play for him in a masterclass once as a student. He was as fine and inspiring an educator as he was a pianist. And to top it all off was the personal warmth and grace he naturally exuded as a human being. RIP Claude Frank. We will all miss you!

  • Michael Mizrahi says:

    I posted a remembrance on Facebook, and I’d like to post it here as well. Claude Frank was a mentor, teacher, and friend, I feel his loss profoundly.

    Rather than post the entirety in the comments, I’ll provide a link to the full text, which can be found here: http://www.michaelmizrahipiano.com/News

  • Daniel Farber says:

    Among the worthy things Erich Leinsdorf did when he was music director of the Boston Symphony was to bring Claude Frank to perform on several occasions with the orchestra, after which he performed recitals fairly regularly in the Boston area. With Fleisher more or less on the shelf in those years and with Leonard Shure increasingly involved in teaching, Claude Frank was the great surviving Schnabel student. His performances of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert in those years are still the gold standard for those of us who were lucky enough to be there. It’s so sad that because of the variables associated with the “business” of music, he did not have a larger career and was known primarily by pianists and other musicians.

  • Susan Merdinger says:

    I was a student at Yale University and the Yale School of Music, during which time I took countless lessons with Claude Frank in addition to my other incredibly wonderful teachers at Yale- Ward Davenny, Seymour Lipkin, Elizabeth Parisot, Donald Currier…
    Claude Frank was an amazing pianist, consummate musician, and one of the best teachers ever. Most of the repertoire I recorded from 1983-1984 at Yale, now released on my acclaimed CD, Retrospection, I had the good fortune to study with Claude Frank. I also remember coaching with him in New York after my years at Yale, and his influence upon my own musical development was profound. Although I hadn’t seen him in many years, to this day, I think of him with fond memories when I play some of the works by Chopin, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Schumann that I studied with him. My condolences to his daughter Pamela, who I have had the delight to hear at Ravinia Music Festival in recent summers. I plan to dedicate my next CD, just recently recorded in New York, “The Classical Style II”, to this warm and brilliant musician.

    • Daniel Farber says:

      With all due respect, your reference to “my acclaimed CD” in an encomium of Mr. Frank is entirely antithetical to his spirit and to everything he stood for. Although you may have intended the “acclaim” to be shared with him because you had studied the works on the CD with him, the self-regard is, alas, what stands out.

      • Susan Merdinger says:

        I have no idea who you are, Mr. Farber, but I would like to take this opportunity to respond to your comment which I just happened to discover. I am sorry to say that you have misinterpreted in a very unnecessary and mean-spirited way the intent and nature of my comment. Yes, the comment was intended to attribute the “acclaim” to the fact that I studied the works on that particular CD with Mr. Frank. Let me recount the complimentary words about Mr Frank I used in my “encomium”: “amazing”, “consummate”, “best”, “warm” and brilliant. Furthermore, the single adjective “acclaim” is factual- it is not self-aggrandizement. Go read the reviews for Retrospection yourself. If Mr. Frank did not have successful students who themselves became distinguished artists, then he would not have been the revered artist-teacher that he was. He gave back and shared his talent with many- of which I am just one. I should hope that all of his students should enjoy acclaim and success in their careers. That is the definition of an artist-teacher and a sure testament to their success and renown. I am sure that Claude Frank himself would have been delighted to know that this CD recording, only recently released after 25 years sitting in a closet, has won the respect of many. I am most certain that HE was most proud and content to know the the successes of all of his students. Also, there aren’t any musicians I know of who aren’t extremely proud to declare their pedagogical lineage- whether it is Neuhaus, Leschitisky, Liszt, Schnabel, etc….Every single day that I study, practice or perform works by those composers I studied with him, I remember his philosophy, his style, his perspective. As I do the other teachers with whom I studied…I have nothing but respect for my teachers and sincere sympathy when they pass away (only Lipkin is still alive) and that is why I made the comment here in the first place for Mr. Frank.
        You are entirely out of line and a representation of what is wrong with this classical music world in which everyone is out to point a finger, back-stab and otherwise find fault with people who are just simply doing what they love to do.
        While you are entitled to your own interpretation of my written words, I suggest that you learn a “golden rule”- if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.
        THAT is the true essence of what Claude Frank was all about. He managed to coax beautiful playing out of his students with nary a harsh word. A more kind, gentle, supportive and sympathetic teacher would be hard to find. If my intuition is correct, I suspect that you are a frustrated and bitter musician, who studied seriously, but gave it up. I suggest to you to go back to it, and find the joy and confidence in your music-making again.

  • Koji Attwood says:

    His warmth and humanity extended directly from his heart to his fingertips, and we were all thankful in receiving his spiritual transmissions.

  • Nicholas A says:

    I would like to offer my condolences and express my sadness at the passing of a great musician, who for so many pianists stood as a sort of pillar of musical integrity. I heard him live only once – replacing a very famous colleague in Manchester (whom I was so excited to hear) in the late 1970s in Mozart K491. The passion and warmth of that performance has stayed with me over the years and I have completely forgotten the name of the pianist Frank replaced. Another specific: the opening of the Eb major movement from Beethoven’s op 96 violin sonata (recorded with his wonderful violinist daughter Pamela) is one of the most sublime moments of musicianship and piano playing I can list; it lasts a few bars, but it is completely, compellingly, true to the music.