Obituary: Influential composer and teacher Leon Kirchner, 90

Posted on: September 18, 2009

In Friday’s (9/18) New York Times, Anthony Tommasini writes, “Leon Kirchner, the eminent American composer who was also a pianist, a conductor and an influential teacher, died on Thursday at his home on Central Park West in Manhattan. He was 90. The cause was congestive heart failure, said his daughter, Lisa Kirchner. Mr. Kirchner’s early music was strongly influenced by Bartok and Stravinsky. But a formative experience studying at the University of California, Los Angeles, with Arnold Schoenberg, the towering Austrian composer and pioneer of the 12-tone technique, set Mr. Kirchner on a lifelong creative path. Although he came to identify completely with the aesthetic of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, he was an instinctive composer who never adopted the rigorous procedures of 12-tone composition. … His conflicted feelings about teaching, about the university being a ghetto for composers, lingered throughout his career. Yet he was an important teacher, especially in his 28 years at Harvard, from which he retired as professor of music in 1989. Besides guiding the work of young Harvard composers, including John Adams and Richard Wernick, Mr. Kirchner developed a renowned course in the analysis and performance of chamber music, which was formative in the lives of many musicians, among them the violinist Lynn Chang and the cellist Yo-Yo Ma.”

Posted September 18, 2009