Theodor Kirchner (1823-1903)
Robert Schumann transcriptions
John Kersey, piano
Audio sample: Freundliches Erinnern
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Total time: 71 mins 32 secs
1) Kirchner: Ein Gedenkblatt: Serenade op 15 (3’47”)
2) Schumann trans. Kirchner: Romanzen und Balladen (40’22”). 1) Der Schatzgräber op 45 no 1 2) Frühlingsfahrt op 45 no 2 3) Abends am Strande op 45 no 3 4) Die Beiden Grenadiere op 49 no 1 5) Die Nonne op 49 no 3 6) Blondel’s Lied op 53 no 1 7) Loreley op 53 no 2 8) Der Arme Peter op 53 no 3 9) Die Soldatenbraut op 64 no 1 10) Das verlassene Mägdelein op 64 no 2 11) Tragödie op 64 no 3
3) Kirchner: In stillen Stunden, op 56 Heft IV (6’35”) 1) Klage 2) Freundliches Erinnern
4) Schumann trans. Kirchner: Bilder aus Osten: 6 Impromptus (20’46”) 1) Lebhaft 2) Nicht schnell und sehr gesangvoll zu spielen 3) Im Volkston 4) Nicht schnell 5) Lebhaft 6) Renig, andächtig
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.
The transcription of Bilder aus Osten (Pictures from the East) is a particular delight; the original is for piano duet, but Kirchner’s version rearranges the work so that it is playable by a single pianist with no loss of effect. His original works are distinctive and full of emotion, particularly “Freundliches Errinern”, punningly dedicated to Robert Freund.