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KIRCHNER: Duo for Violin and Piano / Piano Trio / Piano Sonata / Triptych

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Leon Kirchner (b.1919): Chamber Works

New music in the United States since World War II hasbeen a spirited arena of diverse ideologies. Serialism,minimalism, indeterminacy, \New Romanticism", andother musical pathways have attracted their passionateconstituencies of composers and audience. Ofcomposers who have chosen to go their own way,working apart from the ever-changing mainstream, amajor figure is Leon Kirchner. Single-mindedlyfollowing his own vision, he has developed a powerfulinimitable language.

Kirchner was born in Brooklyn in 1919, the son ofRussian Jews. At the age of nine his family moved toLos Angeles, which was in the 1930s to become acreative mecca with the influx of distinguished figuresfleeing Nazi Europe. Family hopes for a medical careerwere dashed when Kirchner put his zoology majorbehind him and entered Arnold Schoenberg's class atU.C.L.A. (University of California at Los Angeles). Hereceived his Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from theUniversity of California at Berkeley, where he hadclasses with Ernest Bloch. Awarded the Prix de Paris in1942, he intended to go abroad, but because of the warsettled in New York and studied with Roger Sessions.

After army service he returned to Berkeley for graduatestudies. He held professorships at the University ofSouthern California, Mills College, and, from 1961 untilhis retirement in 1989, at Harvard University.

Kirchner is a man of the broadest artistic andintellectual horizons, and an immensely perceptiveteacher of both composers and performers. (This writerwas his student at Mills College.) At Harvard he createda unique music analysis/performance class, which hadan enormous impact on such budding celebrities asYo-Yo Ma, Lynn Chang, and James Oliver Buswell. Apianist and conductor of rare gifts, he has been guestconductor with major orchestras, and in residence atnumerous festivals. He is especially proud of theHarvard Chamber orchestra, which he founded toperform traditional and contemporary repertoire.

Kirchner's works include the opera Lily, two pianoconcertos, two cello concertos, three string quartets,Concerto for Violin, Cello, Ten Winds, and Percussion,Music for Orchestra I and II, Music for Flute andOrchestra, a song cycle The Twilight Stood, amonumental cantata Of Things Exactly As They Are, andother orchestral, chamber, and solo works. In recentyears he has written a second Trio for Violin, Cello andPiano (1993), Duo for Violin and Piano (2002), andPiano Sonata (2003). Kirchner has received numerousmajor commissions and awards, including the 1967Pulitzer Prize and the 1994 Friedheim Award of theKennedy Center.

The works on this recording span four decades.

Although the composer's music has gone through asubtle evolution, the basic features of Kirchner'smusical language are apparent from the start. His musictends to the rhapsodic, with impulsive movement fromlyric to dramatic, and asymmetrical rhythm andphrasing. Works are conceived as organic wholes. (Allthe multimovement works on this recording are "playedwithout pause".) In the earlier music particularly,sectional contrasts are sharp, marked by clear tempochanges; in his later music, the textural continuitybecomes more homogeneous, the changes gradual andseamless. The tonal language is chromatic but notserially organized. The composer's markings in thescores are detailed and sometimes unusual: "Haltingly","Wild", "Coming from nowhere, almost out of control."Each movement evolves from a single idea, andtypically, these themes are of a probing, questioningcharacter. Like a protagonist in a drama, the idea goes onan epic journey, experiencing a series of contrastingpsychological states in its quest for resolution orfulfillment. The journey is turbulent; in stream-of-consciousnessmode, we are carried along withpropulsive energy until we reach a plateau of calmreflectiveness, but then the energy erupts anew. Despitethe forceful linear thrust, the music exists on severallevels. Cross-connections are important; an extendedpassage, or even a single sonority, recalled from anearlier moment triggers the recesses of our memory andbuilds up a multi-dimensional awareness analogous toour conscious and unconscious mental processes. Allthis makes a work feel like a large experience eventhough it may not be particularly long in actual time.

Kirchner's earliest compositions show the impact ofhis teachers, as well as the influence of Bartok and Berg.

The language, however, is distinctly his own. Hisearliest published composition, the Duo for Violin andPiano (1947), has an airy, playful tone but, typically, theseemingly lighthearted, scherzando discourse ultimatelyenters mysterious, transcendent realms.

The Piano Sonata (1948) follows the historicprinciples of sonata structure with great originality. Thefirst movement sets up a recurring sequence of twoqualities of motion: a declamatory theme in broad tempogradually gathers momentum and restlessly surges to afast, propulsive section. Each sequence is moredevelopmental and intense. The final section reaches noresolution; a series of bell-like sonorities propels themovement to a last gigantic chord from which emergesnew distant bells of the Adagio. Over an obsessiverepeated note ostinato (avowedly indebted to 'Le gibet'from Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit), melismaticfigurations reminiscent of Bartok's "night music"evolve into a dramatic chant. The third, rondo-like,movement energetically and straightforwardly resolvesthe work as a whole, pausing to reflect on portions ofpreceding movements before the decisive ending.

By the time of the Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano(1954), Kirchner had abandoned the traditional schemeof distinctly characterized movements in favour of morecontinuous structures. Here the two movements areinterdependent. The first movement evolves in a mannersimilar to the Piano Sonata, but the fluctuations betweenthe slow, lyric theme, introduced by the cello, andcontrasting agitated sections are treated with greatercomplexity and unpredictability. The movement ends aswith a question mark, the piano's final bell-like chordsacting as a bridge between the two movements. Thesecond movement reestablishes the moments ofintrospective calm from the first movement. Theascending gestures of the restless first movement nowyield to a falling, consoling figure. Agitated elementsgradually take over, however, and aggressively drive thework to its final powerful resolution.

'Flutings' (1973) is a short solo from the opera Lily,based on Saul Bellow's novel Henderson, The RainKing, and produced by the New York City Opera in1977. The flute solo begins the opera, evoking an exoticjungle setting. It is also part of a short concert work,Lily, derived from the opera, for soprano and eleveninstruments.

Triptych (1986/88) began life in another guise. Thefirst movement, for solo cello, is actually a version ofFor Solo Violin. Kirchner added two duo movementsand the present work was first performed by Yo-Yo Maand Lynn Chang. The introspective first movementdevelops from the initial sighing, falling motive and itspreceding grace note arpeggiation. The yearningcharacter of the motive and its restless tritone harmonycalls for a resolution, which is not yet to be fulfilled. Thenext movements carry the search onward and ultimatelyprovide an answer: the violin's brash entrance sets up adynamic response which, with occasional flashbacks tothe first movement, culminates in the driving Prestofinale, a joyous, dance-like affirmation of breathtakingvirtuosity.

Cheryl Seltzer

?® 2005 Continuum"
Item number 8559195
Barcode 636943919521
Release date 01/03/2005
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Lauridsen, Beverly
Seltzer, Cheryl
Perry, Elizabeth
Michaels, Geoffrey
Rosenfeld, Jayn
Sachs, Joel
Kitsopoulos, Maria
Steinberg, Mark
Composers Kirchner, Leon
Disc: 1
1 Duo for Violin and Piano
2 Lily: Flutings
3 Piano Trio
4 Piano Sonata (Lento, Tempo II - Adagio - Allegro r
5 Triptych
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