Naxos here includes in its American Classics series a collection
of chamber works by one man. They were composed over a period
that covers most of the 20th century post-war period. The chamber
music medium has not yielded a great many works of classic status
since the death of Schubert and Beethoven but within the confines
of a certain style some of the works on this disc deserve to
be taken very seriously and who knows, may one day be thought
of as classics.
is the Style? Well I do not think there is a name for it but
the combination of the terms: post-war/modernist/atonal/ conventional
instrumental chamber, may start to give a hint. In other words,
the music is not as radical as Webern, Stockhausen or Cage,
nor as accessible as Shostakovich. I am not familiar with Kirchner’s
work as a whole but in what I have read, a common judgement
seems to be that he has a voice of his own. In the words of
the CD booklet, “he has developed a powerful, inimitable language”.
I think this only partly true. Kirchner studied with Schoenberg
in California and it is easy to spot behind the music the shadow of the so-called
“Second Viennese School” (Schoenberg, Webern, Berg). A huge amount of chamber music was written
under this influence, most of which has deservedly sunk without
trace; including one or two of my own efforts! That which is
different about Kirchner’s music on this disc is, I suggest,
what makes it endure.
he largely eschews the stricter rigours of Schoenberg’s 12-tone
serial technique. This is the procedure that provided the structural
basis of music in the absence of tonally-determined organisational
principles. Many listeners find serial technique intimidating
because they read about it in programme notes, CD booklets etc.
but find they cannot work out with their ears what is actually
and more importantly, Kirchner employs aggressive rhythms in
his pieces that are not to be found in most works of the Second Viennese School. If you felt so inclined, you could
dance to some of this music whereas I cannot think of anything
by Webern, off-hand, which would lead me to tap my foot, let
alone dance. This aspect of Kirchner’s music is much closer
in spirit to two other 20th century giants, Stravinsky and Bartók.
the music has a strong lyrical streak which often breaks out
through the atonal and rhythmic rigour of the music thus providing
there is a refreshingly undoctrinaire approach to this type
of music, the composer having no qualms about drifting into
tonality, something that Schoenberg & Co would have studiously
set out to avoid in their serial music.
performances (apart from Triptych) date from over twenty
years ago and were originally issued by Musical Heritage Society.
The players are clearly committed to the music, attacking it
with great conviction. I do not know, but some may have been
Kirchner’s former pupils – he was an influential teacher. Certainly,
the pianist Cheryl Seltzer studied with him and she has written
the notes for the booklet. Her admiration shows both in her
writing and playing. She plays Kirchner’s first piano sonata
which I did not know but think is the most impressive work on
the disc. Written at a time when the piano sonata had virtually
died a death in serious music circles, it blends together a
large range of contemporary styles into a substantial, powerfully
developed work. Maybe this will be the most enduring piece on
the disc and become a classic of keyboard literature for the
those of you who haven’t been able to make it across the divide
into 20th century modernism of this type, I highly recommend
the disc. It could be the bridge that takes you there.