Kirchner: The Forbidden

Kirchner: The Forbidden
© Lisa Kirchner
Throughout Leon Kirchner’s life, music has been his motivation. He has had an illustrious career as a renowned pianist, an esteemed conductor, a beloved teacher, and an influential composer. At almost 90 years old (his birthday is in January 2009), Kirchner is still composing and is seeing his music performed by generations of musicians. The Boston Symphony Orchestra premieres his new orchestral work, The Forbidden, on 16 October and New York City’s Miller Theatre presents a Kirchner retrospective in January 2009.

Kirchner has made an indelible mark on contemporary music through his own remarkable style — in his words, “an artist must create a personal cosmos, a verdant world in continuity with tradition...powered by conviction and necessity.” Like Arnold Schoenberg, his mentor, Kirchner weaves the past and the present, creating music that masterfully conveys our contemporary world.

To pianist Joel Fan, an alumni of Kirchner’s courses at Harvard University, his music is of “pure artistic integrity, revealing the highest ideals for which music stands.” As described by Daniel Phillips of the Orion String Quartet, Kirchner’s music has a “deep authenticity. Every note is supercharged with an expressive atmosphere. Even when it is quiet, it is intense. Most importantly, Kirchner has never lost touch with what sounds beautiful.”

The Forbidden, a 15 minute, one movement work for orchestra, is the last in a triptych begun in 2006 with the Piano Sonata No. 3 and the String Quartet No. 4, written for Joel Fan and the Orion String Quartet, respectively. Each work in this triptych shares similarities in their overall structure, melodic content, and harmonic consistency; however, each of the three works, like triplet children, have their own personalities (click here to Look and Listen to audio and score samples to explore the similarities and the differences between the three Forbidden works).

Taken from a quote in Dr. Faustus by Thomas Mann, the title of the triptych, The Forbidden, references a warning by the devil to the protagonist, who has sold his soul in exchange for twenty-four years as a great composer: “Every better composer bears within him a canon of what is forbidden, of what forbids itself, which by now embraces the very means of tonality, and thus all traditional music.”

This diabolic advice to avoid the past became a challenge to Kirchner and is a mark of his personal, “verdant” world. To him, “it was a seductive idea, one that I have been pursuing of late, to possibly reveal the necessary intimacies between the past and present, which keep the art of music alive and well.”

Cick here to listen to an interview with Leon Kirchner as he discusses the genesis of "The Forbidden" triptych: Piano Sonata No. 3, String Quartet No. 4, and the upcoming premiere with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

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