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Theodor Kirchner

The Estate (Collection Conrad Hannß)

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Theodor Kirchner was a multitalented musician: a composer, pianist, conductor, and organist. He was well connected in the music world. He performed with Clara Schumann, Julius Stockhausen, and other renowned performers of the nineteenth century. The focus of his compositional work was piano music that included almost 1000 individual titles. For Johannes Brahms, several of these miniatures were the »tenderest of the tender.«

Via his last pupil Conrad Hannß, a significant partial Kirchner estate became part of the Sammlung Hofmann and then in 1991 part of the collection at the Brahms-Institut. The extensive materials on his life and work are presented in digital form. They include 36 musical manuscripts, several hundred sheets with sketches and preliminary work, and the extensive collection of first and early prints of his works, which frequently feature handwritten comments, as well as numerous other documents.

For the musical path of Theodor Kirchner, an encounter and friendship with Robert Schumann was defining. In 1843, Schumann gave a positive review of Kirchner’s opus 1, considering him in 1853 in his famous Brahms essay Neue Bahnen one of the »highly promising artists of recent years.« Only fifteen years olf he was already introduced to Schumann und Mendelssohn, who were positively impressed by the talent of the young musician. Mendelssohn suggested to Kirchner that he study piano, music theory, and organ in Leipzig. In 1843, Kirchner, now twenty, began his studies as the very first student (with registration number one) at the newly founded Leipzig Conservatory. A later echo of this can be found in Kirchner’s Erinnerungen an das Konservatorium.

Beside several songs, an ambitious string quartet, and smaller chamber works, Kirchner wrote over 1000 individual pieces for ›his‹ instrument. They form a kaleidoscope of musically singular inspiration and compositional diversity, often featuring the briefest of motives. An engagement with Schumann’s tonal language is reflected in work titles such as Neue Davidsbündlertänze, op. 17, Neue Kinderscenen, op. 55, or Florestan und Eusebius, op. 53. But all the same, Kirchner retained an unmistakable sound of his own. In the meantime, he maintained a close friendship with Clara Schumann – it was due to this that a golden pen of Robert Schumann’s made its way into Kirchner’s estate.

In his later years, the impoverished and ill composer moved to Hamburg, where Mathilde Schlüter, the widow of a construction company owner, became his student and took care of him. He was forgotten soon after his death in 1903, buried on Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg near Hans von Bülow and Julius Spengel, in part due to the brevity of his compositions which almost all belong to the genre of romantic character pieces.

The Kirchner estate was catalogued in a project at the Brahms-Institut by Fabian Bergener, who was able to base his work on important prior work by Harry Joelson (Winterthur). Digitization was funded by the Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, Science, and Equality of the Federal State of Schleswig-Holstein. Secretary of State Rolf Fischer was present at the launching of the digital archive at the Brahms-Institut at the end of January 2016.

The Estate

The digitized estate of Theodor Kirchner includes 9,000 sheets. The most extensive segment consists of the first/early editions: 24 collected volumes with personal hand copies of the composer himself, which feature numerous handwritten corrections and submissions. With almost 100 volumes, the individual editions of Kirchner’s works make up an additional component. Nearly all of Kirchner’s works are available digitally in first/early editions to users around the world.

The estate also includes 36 manuscripts, including works for piano and songs, and several hundred sketches, concepts, and drafts that offer a fascinating look at Kirchner’s compositional workshop.

The number of life documents is relatively small, with only a dozen letters from and to Kirchner. Beside several pieces of writing and mementos, like address and notebooks, there are several concert programs, a cigarette etui, a letter seal, and a fountain pen that once belonged to Robert Schumann.

The extensive score library with works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven and Kirchner’s book collection were not digitized, since they represent secondary sources in this context. An exception here are the first editions of works by Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann, which are already included in the Brahms-Institut digital archive.

The digitization of the Kirchner estate not only presents the range of the collection of Brahms-Institut, which stretches far into the circle of Brahms’ friends and acquaintances. It is also a key step in maintaining the precious originals, which can thus be better kept over the long term.

For research, this composer’s estate opens various perspectives. Many of the editions are marked with the composer’s own handwriting: corrections, fingerings, ownership markings, or dedications. The materials contained offer insights into processes of publication and interpretation history and also makes it possible to explore questions of conventions of dedication, since both printed and handwritten dedications are included. In addition, using the autograph manuscripts, and especially the sketch materials (collections of ideas or concepts) allows processes of emergence to be traced out and contextualized.

The indexing of the estate is based largely on the work of Harry Joelson-Strohbach, a catalogue of works by Theodor Kirchner that the author generously provided access to. Information on dates of publication and editions were taken from this work.