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.