Frigyes Feszl was born in Pest in 1821 to a German-speaking middle-class family from Austria. His father and grandfather were stonemason masters, and his eldest brother was a councillor of Pest from 1848 to 1874. Frigyes attended the Piarist grammar school in Pest, probably studied at József Hild after three years of regular guild training, and then, after receiving his wandering certificate, set out on a European wandering journey in 1839. He toured Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy. He visited Munich several times, where he also enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts and where he was influenced not only by his masters, Klenze, Gärtner and Burklein, but also by the innovative Bavarian architecture working with the round-arched style.
Feszl returned home in 1844, settled down in Pest, and worked with Károly Gerster and Lipót Kauser for nine years. This year, he submitted his orientalist, romantic style blueprint to the competition for the Parliament building, where he won first prize and professional recognition that influenced significantly his later career, but our Parliament was not built according to his ideas.
Owing to the reputation and relations brought by his plan, the Kauser-Feszl-Gerster triple association received several orders in Pest, Buda and the surrounding settlements during 9 years. One of their important assignments came from Count István Széchenyi, namely in connection with the independent Industrial School, of which Széchenyi dreamt to be built on Szervita Square. He asked the planning office to design a new church and convent for the Servites, but the project did not materialize. The company presumably met Péter Balassovits and the Oszvald brothers through Széchenyi, and the buildings designed for them can still be seen in the city centre: the Balassovits House is located at 57 Váci Street and the Oszvald House is located at 22 Nádor Street. The Oszvald House is the most important building from the first decade of Feszl's oeuvre. The three-storeyed house was built from July 1846 to September 1848. In 1863 the Oszvald brothers leased it to innkeeper János Frohner and his wife to create a hotel. After the reconstructions, the largest hotel in Pest, the 100-room Frohner Hotel, opened on 1 October, 1864. Later, in 1891, it was renamed Hotel Continental, already owned by György Holzwart.
In 1851, Feszl and his partners' office received another unfulfilled assignment: the plans of Ludwig Förster – who was more inclined to compromise – won the design competition for the Dohány Street Synagogue. Later, during the construction, the Jewish community got in disagreement with Förster, so the domed house of worship was realized according to Feszl's ideas.
The Kauser – Feszl – Gerster association broke up in 1854, partly due to a bankruptcy proceeding. The possibility of residential design was closed to Feszl, so he applied for tenders, designed tombstones, and worked on small orders from the city of Pest. He was a member of the jury at the tender of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; he also prepared and painted his visual design, but he did not participate in the tender.
The Vigadó was built between 1859 and 1865 on the basis of the Redoute (old Vigadó), designed by Mihály Pollack and destroyed by the Austrians in 1849. The construction was preceded by lengthy negotiations lasting about ten years. The façade of the romantic building, which mixes several styles, is richly decorated; most of the sculptures were made by Károly Alexy, and the interior is decorated with murals by Károly Lotz and Mór Than. For the general public, the opening was held in January 1865, in a ceremonial setting. The Vigadó created a great sensation in its era, and became an undeniably important cultural and artistic institution, but the public taste of that time had already turned away from the romantic style, thus the Vigadó and its designer, Feszl, did not receive much recognition. This fact and his clashes with the authorities during the construction, forced Feszl to retire, and he did not get a major task later. Debussy, Brahms and Liszt visited the concert hall among others, and in addition to classical music concerts, it was also possible to hold balls and receptions in the assembly hall.
Feszl's oeuvre can be divided into two groups according to style: the most characteristic of his romantic creative period is the "Rundbogenstil", which is marked by oriental-Moorish round-arched style features, which appear on the Vigadó, and with this building he closed this period. After 1865, Romanticism receded into the background, and historicizing Eclecticism became dominant. This is also evidenced by the drawings that survived in his legacy, including his last unrealized work, the plan of the parish church of Kőbánya, which evokes the world of medieval design. Also in Historicism, he planned residential houses in the period after the Compromise (1867). In the last years of his life, Feszl lived in Kőbánya, his diabetes worsened, and he died of its complications on 25 July, 1884.
The Vigadó suffered severe injuries in World War II, and its renovation had to be waited for until the 1970s. It was reopened to the public in 1980, and as a result of the transformations, its concert hall received 700 seats, its chamber hall 220 seats, and its gallery became one of the most important venues for contemporary art in the 1990s. Until 2004, its operation was continuous, but then it was closed due to new renovation work. Between 2007 and 2011, reconstruction came to a halt, with the building standing empty. It was reopened in March 2014 and the architectural elements used in the 1970s disappeared. Feszl's masterpiece and one of the most exciting architectural relics on the Pest side of the Danube can shine again in its old splendour.
Translated by Zita Aknai
- Komárik Dénes: Feszl Frigyes és megbízói. In: Budapesti Negyed (1995/3)
- Pesti Mónika: Nem csak a Pesti Vigadó mestere – Lechner Tudásközpont
- Oszvald-ház, Budapest – Ki Tervezte?
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