Contemporary American composers have few able defenders, and once out of sight, composers are often forgotten, so it is good to have a biographical tribute, out in November, from University of Rochester Press to Leon Kirchner, who died in 2009 at age 90.
“Leon Kirchner: Composer, Performer, & Teacher” by Robert Riggs recounts the life and work of the Brooklyn-born composer, whose father, Samuel Kirzner, was an embroiderer from Odessa. As Kirchner wrote in a lapidary 1970 essay, the elder Kirzner was:
[a] prodigy. By the age of fourteen [Kirzner] had embroidered an elaborate gown for the Czarina… There were pogroms. He came to America in a cattle boat.
Kirchner’s own works, from those for solo piano (see video below) to his scandalously overlooked and still-unrecorded 1977 opera “Lily,” based on Saul Bellow’s “Henderson the Rain King,” continue in the family tradition of stern attention to detail. Uncompromising thorniness is a hallmark of many Kirchner compositions, and indeed a source of their integrity and strength, as one would expect after his studies with Arnold Schoenberg and Ernest Bloch, two great Jewish composers who would never be confused with the Sunshine Boys.
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