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Claude Frank, Timeless Pianist and Prodigious Interpreter of Beethoven, Dead at 89

By Jaime Prisco j.prisco@classicalite.com on Dec 30, 2014 09:37 AM EST

Timeless American pianist Claude Frank, one of the greatest interpreters of Beethoven, died in his home in Manhattan Saturday, Dec. 27, three days after his 89th birthday.

The cause of death is said to be complications due to dementia, according to his daughter, Pamela Frank, a violinist and his only immediate survivor.

Frank was born in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1925. His family, which was Jewish, moved to Paris once the Nazis came to power, and it was there where he studied at the Paris Conservatory. As the political situation in Europe worsened, he escaped by way of a hide-out in the Pyrenees Mountains and then Lisbon, where, with help from the Brazilian embassy, he made it to the United States. Frank studied under Austrian-born master Artur Schnabel in New York in the 1940s, but his studies were interrupted by military service. He became an American citizen in 1944.

As a performer, He concentrated on the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, but Frank was not only a world-renowned performer. As a teacher, whose students included veteran figures like Richard Goode and rising artists like Benjamin Hochman, he was encouraging of a wide-ranging repertory, including contemporary music.

Though Frank was a master of his art, his performances and recordings of Beethoven were especially distinguished. In 1970, in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, Frank performed the complete cycle of 32 piano sonatas in a series of eight programs at Hunter College in New York. RCA released his recordings of the Beethoven sonatas as a boxed set, which earned him glowing reviews. This was the height of his career, where he was performing 70 concerts a year, including international tours and concerto performances with orchestras from the Berlin Philharmonic to the San Francisco Symphony.

Known for his fun-loving attitude and sense of humor, Frank was never one to turn down the opportunity to have some fun. He was on the roster of international pianists who performed in the Olympic Centenary Piano Extravaganza in China during the 2008 Games in Beijing.

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TagsClaude Frank, pianist, Beethoven, Dead, Pamela Frank, Berlin Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, 2008 Olympics

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