Theodor Kirchner (1823-1903)
Conversations with the Piano
John Kersey, piano
Audio sample: Tempo di Valse
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Total time: 68 mins 36 secs
1) Humoresken, op 48 (12’44”)
1. Allegro non troppo 2. Con moto 3. Allegretto 4. Allegretto 5. Allegretto grazioso 6. Allegretto
2) Romanze, op 45 no 6 (3’00”)
3) Plaudereien am Klavier, op 60 (47’56”)
1. Con moto 2. Allegretto 3. Allegro 4. Nicht zu schnell 5. Poco Allegretto 6. Poco Allegro 7. Mässiges Tempo 8. Con moto 9. Allegretto 10. Allegro 11. Allegretto 12. Poco Andante 13. Con troppo vivace 14. Zart nicht schnell 15. Poco moderato 16. Allegro ma non troppo 17. Comodo 18. Molto moderato 19. Poco animato 20. Comodo 21. Tempo di Gavotta 22. Con fuoco 23. Poco Allegro 24. Allegretto (Gavotten tempo) 25. Andantino
4) Tempo di Valse (2’51”)
Fürchtegott Theodor Kirchner, a pupil of Mendelssohn at the newly-founded Leipzig Conservatoire, composed over 1000 original works for piano, most of which are miniatures, but is best known for his arrangements today. He was a master of piano texture and his transcriptions show great craft.
Kirchner was recommended by Mendelssohn for the post of organist of Winterthur in Switzerland in 1843, and remained there for the next twenty years. The position gave him the opportunity to travel throughout Germany, and there he came into contact with Brahms and the Schumanns (he had first met Robert Schumann aged fourteen). He appears to have had a brief affair with Clara Schumann in the 1860s.
In 1862, Kirchner became director of the subscription concerts in Zurich, but remained there for only three years before returning to freelancing. He was appointed court pianist at Meiningen in 1872 and became director of the conservatoire in Würzburg the following year. However, in 1876, he moved to Leipzig for seven years, before going to Dresden, where he taught score-reading. The year 1890 was a climactic one for him, for he abandoned his wife and family and went to live in Hamburg, where he was looked after by a former pupil. Four years later he suffered the first of two strokes that left himparalysed, and began to go blind.
“In his character there is no stability” wrote Clara Schumann. Kirchner’s career suffered because of his addiction to gambling and an extravagant lifestyle that was beyond his means, and his musical friends had periodically to bail him out from financial ruin. In 1884 a group including Brahms, Grieg, Gade and von Bülow raised thirty thousand marks to help him pay off his gambling debts.
Here we encounter Kirchner as composer of original works, many written for accomplished women pianists. Kirchner’s works demand not merely a sound technique but a poetic imagination. The Plaudereien am Klavier constitute a cycle of wit and subtlety of invention and are as pleasing to play as to listen to. Elsewhere, his Romanze shows a creation of drama within the miniature that foreshadows Grieg. The Humoresken are a particularly attractive set, showing Kirchner’s mastery of harmony and sense of humour throughout.