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Leon Kirchner


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In this first biography of American composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher Leon Kirchner (1919-2009), Robert Riggs paints a vivid picture of an extraordinary, multifaceted musician. Refugees from Hitler's Third Reich (Schoenberg, Bloch, and Stravinsky) dominated Kirchner's early development, and he in turn became a transformative mentor for later generations at the University of Southern California, Mills College, and Harvard University. Kirchner's performance persona is brought to life by highlighting his appearances with top orchestras and at major festivals, especially his long tenure at the Marlboro Music Festival, where he worked with Rudolf Serkin and Pablo Casals. Current champions of his music (Yo-Yo Ma, Leon Fleisher, and James Levine) are also key protagonists. Kirchner's entire oeuvre is discussed within the chronological narrative, and six representative works are examined in detail.
In addition to Riggs's extensive interviews with the composer, the biography is documented with Kirchner's colorful correspondence from a roster of luminaries: Saul Bellow, Leonard Bernstein, Edward Cone, Aaron Copland, Darius Milhaud, Isaac Stern, Roger Sessions, and many others. Excerpts from Kirchner's own elegantly written essays and speeches complete the portrait and reveal his highly personal, romantic view of music as powerful art capable of endowing humanity with an "aesthetic sensibility and protective wisdom, without which we cannot survive."

Robert Riggs is Professor of Music at the University of Mississippi.


[Kirchner] taught a generation of musicians, including performers such as Yo-Yo Ma. . . . Riggs does an excellent job of describing the expressive content and technical aspects of the compositions. . . . The many extracts from primary sources, especially letters between Schoenberg, Sessions, Copland, and Kirchner, along with Kirchner's own eloquent statements and speeches, bring a fascinating period of history vividly to life. MUSIC LIBRARY ASSOCIATION NOTES [Jonathan Blumhofer]

This in-depth study of the broad range of talents, achievements, friendships, statements, and creative activities of Leon Kirchner (1919-2009) is a treasure. . . . Admirably captures the essence of this lionhearted, in all ways creative, human being. AMERICAN MUSIC [Dorothy Lamb Crawford]

[Kirchner] was, with Leonard Bernstein, the outstanding American composer of his generation. . . . Everything in Kirchner is expressive, passionate, full of emotional power. . . . A fine portrait . . . enlivened by personal details and anecdotes derived from Riggs's conversations with Kirchner. TEMPO [David Matthews]

An insider's view of the development of American musical modernism throughout the 20th century. Topics of special interest include Kirchner's training with Arnold Schoenberg and Roger Sessions, relationships with other leading performers and composers (e.g., Aaron Copland), and personal philosophies of musical pedagogy and aesthetics. CHOICE [Stanley C. Pelkey]

Contemporary American composers have few able defenders, . . . so it is good to have a biographical tribute . . . from University of Rochester Press to Leon Kirchner, who died in 2009 at age 90l. . . . Excellent and worthy appreciation . . . [of] a major and enduring talent. THE ARTY SEMITE [Benjamin Ivry] Full review at

This handsomely-produced book is the first to be published on Kirchner... details of Kirchner's rich musical life as composer, pianist, conductor and university teacher are assiduously spelt out and enlivened by personal details and anecdotes TEMPO, Vol. 65 No. 258, October 2011

Informative and welcome introduction to a composer who balanced modernist leanings with an instinctive sense of the romantic. CLASSICAL MUSIC [Michael Quinn; and chosen as an Editor's Choice book of 2011]


First Published: 01 Nov 2010
13 Digit ISBN: 9781580463430
Pages: 347
Size: 9 x 6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: University of Rochester Press
BIC Class: AV

Details updated on 01 May 2016

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