Born: January 15, 1935; St. Louis, MO
Died: June 20, 1991; Pittsfield, MA
Frager was a younger contemporary of Leon Fleischer (b. 1928), John Browning (b. 1933), and Van Cliburn (b. 1934). Like them he became a major prizewinner, starting with the Michaels Memorial Award in Chicago, followed by the Leventritt in 1959, and a year later the Queen Elisabeth Competition at Brussels. The Michaels award caused a brief dust-up when it became known that Frager was a relative of the prize giver (whose memorialized parents hadRead more been killed in a plane crash abroad), but the Leventritt and QEC validated the voting of Chicago judges.
At the age of 14 Frager undertook six years of study in N.Y.C. with Carl Friedberg, a pupil of Clara Schumann, and during that period was privately educated. He went on to Columbia University, majoring in Russian studies and graduating in 1957. The Leventritt opened doors both in the U.S. and abroad; Frager made his first concert tour in 1959. In 1963 he played not only in Central and South America, but in the U.S.S.R. for the first (but not last) time. In 1969, he added the Far East to his concert itinerary, and Australia in 1969.
His specialties included Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, and Schumann, but not at the expense of twentieth-century composers, Prokofiev and Bartók in particular. He spent considerable time in search of original versions of music, unearthing the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1 that Nicolas Rubinstein had damned so brutally in 1875, and the 1841 Fantasie in A minor that later became the first movement of Schumann's only Piano Concerto. Frager became interested in eighteenth-century fortepianos on which he played and recorded Haydn and Mozart and wrote scholarly articles in his free time.
Despite tours, recordings, and archival pursuits, Frager never achieved parity with his elder contemporaries, even after Fleischer's right-hand injury (an extreme form of carpal tunnel syndrome, in effect, that also cost Gary Graffman the use of his right hand), and Cliburn's virtual retirement after a decade of international successes. With his curly brown hair, long neck, and ready smile, Frager seemed to lack their demonic concentration on stage (or, in Cliburn's case, an apparent other-worldly communion with "voices"). His artistry was never matter-of-fact, but neither was it charismatic, and therefore, best appreciated sight-unseen on broadcasts and recordings. His death was untimely -- from cancer, one of the music world's best-kept secrets. He played almost to the end, including a Mozart concerto in Baltimore with conductor David Zinman just weeks before his passing. To anyone, however, who had known Frager from the start of his career, he looked stricken and played mechanically -- a brave adieu, but not musically memorable (as Dinu Lipatti's had been in 1950), despite those first prizes and full schedule. Read less