Theodor Kirchner (1823-1903)
John Kersey, piano
Audio sample: Ländler, op 73 no 5
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Total time: 65 mins 12 secs
Romantische Geschichten, op 73:
1) Eintritt (Entrance) (5’01”) 2) Frühlingsgruss (Spring Greeting) (3’26”) 3) Ein Davidsbündlertanz (A Dance of the David’s-League) (2’02”) 4) Damals (Days gone by) (4’18”) 5) Ländler (1’04”)
6) Romanze (2’20”) 7) Humoreske (4’28”) 8) Legende (3’15”) 9) Im Circus (At the Circus) (2’00”) 10) Menuett (1’37”)
11) Novellette (2’16”) 12) Nachtstuck (Nocturne) (5’18”) 13) A la Hongroise (In Hungarian style) (3’52”) 14) Impromptu (3’18”) 15) In’s Album (Albumleaf) (2’21”)
16) Elegie (5’16”) 17) Daheim (At home) (4’17”) 18) Klage (Complaint) (2’02”) 19) Balladenmässig (In the style of a Ballade) (3’22”) 20) Abschiedslied (Song of Parting) (2’14”)
Fürchtegott Theodor Kirchner, a pupil of Mendelssohn at the newly-founded Leipzig Conservatoire, composed over 1,000 original works for piano, most of which are sets of miniatures. Kirchner expert Dr. Klaus Tischendorf, who has kindly provided the scores and cover photograph for these recordings, has described Kirchner as “the piano miniaturist of the Romantic era”.
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), who recognised in him an arch-Romantic and kindred spirit. 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 freelance life. He was appointed court pianist at Meiningen in 1872 and became director of the conservatoire in Würzburg the following year. Again, he did not stay long, and in 1876 moved to Leipzig for seven years, before going on 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.
Kirchner’s op 73 originated in the productive year 1883 and is among his most ambitious sets of pieces. The movements are both more extended and more virtuosic than in his contemporaneous works, but share with those the predominant themes of fantasy and nostalgia, and a certain harmonic exploration that takes its cue from both Schumann and Brahms. The inclusion of a Davidsbündlertanz is a reference to more than Schumann’s op 6; it also reflects Kirchner’s identification with Schumannesque principles in music at a time when these were under serious challenge from Wagner and his school. Those principles involve the imbuing of what in other hands might appear conventional forms with an inner life that comes from the distillation of emotion: as Kirchner was to write some time before 1886, his compositions are really felt and not merely churned out.