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Peter Frankl

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
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Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Peter Frankl was born in Budapest in 1935 as the oldest of two children to Laura Rosodi and Tibor Frankl. His father composed and played entertainment music and accordion in an orchestra and his mother was a pianist. Peter knew from early on that he would be a musician and was enrolled at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in April 1943. The music director Ernö Dohnanyi managed to keep Jewish musicians until April 1944, when it became too dangerous for Peter to continue. He doesn’t remember much of his father who died in a labour camp and a surviving friend of his father’s later told him and his mother that his dying father’s regret was to never see him develop as a musician. He grew up in the 5th District with a large Jewish community. They weren’t religious and highly assimilated therefore the change of attitude towards Jews came as a shock. His mother tried without success to obtain a letter of protection from the Swedish Embassy and survived with both children, Peter and his younger sister, first in a yellow star house and then in the Budapest ghetto. Peter has few but disturbing memories from those times and the bombing of Budapest. 

After the liberation they returned to their empty flat but their two pianos were given back to them later by a piano tuner. Peter continued his piano education and later improved the family finances with prize money from piano competitions. He remembers how at the Academy they had to study the Bolshevik Party history and political economy and Marxist philosophy besides music. For a long time he didn’t consider leaving Budapest because the possibility didn’t present itself and also because musical life was so vibrant in Budapest. Nobody was allowed to travel so all the best Hungarian artists were performing at home. He started however travelling for concerts in 1955 and in 1958 decided to stay in Paris. In the years before he had built relationships with other Hungarian musician refugees and met his future wife, Annie Feiner. She was a Hungarian Jewish refugee and pianist as well and they got married in 1958. Although Peter’s mother didn’t want to leave Budapest even after Peter’s younger sister emigrated in 1975, she was very supportive of their decision. Motivated by a Hungarian musician he gave his debut in Wigmore Hall in 1962 and moved to London where both his children were born in 1962 and 1963. He made his New York debut with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell in 1967 and became Professor of Piano at the Yale School of Music in 1987. Although he retired from this post after thirty years there are still musical challenges ahead. His message to us is to be who you really are, enjoy life and, don’t harm anyone.


Frankl. Rosodin. Budapest. Franz Liszt Academy of Music. Ernö Dohnanyi. Yale School of Music. Paris. London. Feiner. Arad.


Full Interview


And interestingly enough, when I was… around six years old, I was already entered at Liszt Music Academy as a special talent. And I was studying there until 1943, April, interestingly enough, because that was a very difficult period. And by that time Jewish children were not allowed to be in- in the Academy. But then the music director, Dohnányi [father of Hans von Dohnanyi, German resistance, Righteous among the nations, died in Sachsenhausen 1945], who was a great musician, he somehow was fighting to keep Jewish musicians there. And I managed to be there until 1943. And then I had to stop because that was already too dangerous. So actually I, I was studying until ’44 – April. I always wanted to be a musician and later on I continued my studies at the Academy. And I became a concert pianist.

My father always thought that I will be a famous musician. And I understand that when he passed away, in a labour camp, a friend of his met him there. And his last though before he died was that he is terribly sorry that he won’t witness his son’s development as a musician.

Well, we were thinking that we were assimilated as Hungarians. And we always thought that we are Hungarians. It just happened to be that we are Jewish. But… unfortunately it wasn’t the case, because they treated us differently. And even some people tried to change religion. And I didn’t- I never wanted to change but many people thought that if they change- if they convert, they will be treated differently. But they were not.

The liberation I remember. We were walking back- back to our home. And we found our flat totally empty. And I don’t know how we got back the furniture and the- and the pianos were saved by a tuner, a piano tuner, who apparently gave it back to us, after the war.

I didn’t even tell my mother that I am going to leave. But although she encouraged me always that- and, but- and she never wanted to leave. And even when my sister escaped in- in- well, she came out with an official visiting visa, but then she didn’t come back in 1975. She left mother behind. And she really was wonderful with both of our departures. Because that time, we thought that we will never see each other again. And when- when it started to get easier to get a passport, of course she came immediately… Visited us in London.

It’s [his childhood experiences] affected very much. I think all these emotional contents I hope I can express in my music making and the suffering, I think, is- is quite part of the musical profession. And I think one is enriched by all these experiences. Good and bad experiences. I think so. I think so. The more emotional contents. And when somebody had an immediate success and immediate- I think suffering is part of the musician’s upbringing, I think.

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