Theodor Kirchner (1823-1903)
Robert Schumann: The Song Cycles transcribed for solo piano
John Kersey, piano
Audio sample: Im wunderschönen Monat Mai, op. 48 no. 1
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Total time: 76 mins 56 secs
1) Frauenliebe und -Leben, op 42 (22’43”): Seit ich ihn gesehen; Er, der Herrlichste von Allen; Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben; Du Ring an meinen Finger; Helft mir, ihr Schwestern; Süsser Freund, du blickest; An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust; Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan.
2) Liederkreis, op 39 (23’27”): In der Fremde; Intermezzo; Waldesgespräch; Die Stille; Mondnacht; Schöne Fremde; Auf einer Burg; In der Fremde; Wehmuth; Zwielicht; Im Walde; Frühlingsnacht.
3) Dichterliebe, op 48 (30’36”): Im wunderschönen Monat Mai; Aus meinen Thränen spriessen; Die Rose, die Lilie; Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’; Ich will meine Seele tauchen; Im Rhein, im heil’gen Strome; Ich grolle nicht; Und wüssten’s die Blume; Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen; Hör’ ich das Liedchen klingen; Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen; Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen; Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet; Allnächtlich im Traume; Aus alten Märchen winkt es; Die alten bösen Lieder.
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.
On this disc, Kirchner is shown as far more than a dutiful transcriber, but as an artist with a complete understanding of Schumann’s most profound and intimate works. His transcriptions are pianistically inventive while being faithful to the emotional import of the score. One no more misses the voice than in Liszt’s more famous transcriptions of Schubert’s Lieder. Where Kirchner adds interpretative touches, they are discreet and entirely in keeping with the Romantic freedom that Schumann advocated in performance.