THEODOR FÜRCHTEGOTT KIRCHNER Op. 70: Fünf Sonatinen für Klavier zweihändig (1883)

Description:: 5 Sonatinas, nr. 1 in C (3 movements) nr. 2 in G (4), nr. 3 in C (3),
nr. 4 in G (3), nr. 5 in B-flat (4)

Difficulty: 5/10

Availability: Good! Available with Amadeus Verlag Winterthur.


Theodor Fürchtegott Kirchner (1823-1903) was, it seems, already an accomplished organist at the age of eight. At fifteen he went to Leipzig, where he took lessons from, amongst others, Mendelssohn, and was part of the circle around Schumann. He became the first pupil of the new Conservatory, just founded by Mendelssohn. At their recommendation he was accepted as an organist in Winterthur in 1843. He thrived there. Von Bülow, Liszt en Wagner admired his organ playing. He composed, appeared as a pianist, taught, directed, and organized concerts, also in Zürich. He became good friends with Robert and Clara Schumann and with Brahms. He had an affair with Clara around 1860. She payed off his gambling debts and tried in vain to keep him from it. Later he moved to Zürich, where he got into a not so happy marriage. Then started a very irregular life, in which he changed jobs a lot. For a short spell he was a court pianist in Meiningen, Music school director in Würzburg, and he gave lessons in Leipzig and Dresden. Although he wasn’t paid too badly, he got massively indebted, and in 1884 friends (Hanslick, Gade, Grieg, Brahms, von Bülow and Reinecke) raised a big sum of money to save him. From 1890 on he lived in Hamburg, without his wife and children, and was supported by von Bülow and Brahms. At the end of his life he was almost blind, and lamed. But during this life, apart from about 20 opus numbers of chamber music, over 40 songs, and some choir music, he wrote more than 1000 often very beautiful piano miniatures in an acute, personal style akin to Schumann’s, and sometimes reminiscent of Brahms.


What happens to a classical sonatina of for example Clementi, which gets lost in the romantic period? Play these five jumping sonatinas from Kirchner and you’ll know more.

The grand romantic sonata, it seems, often gets somewhat clogged in the realisation of its lofty intentions. All too often then a grey shade is looking on, which has a certain likeness with Beethoven! In the short compass of the sonatina the romantic spirit perhaps has more freedom to shine. Here things needn’t be that serious and responsable. The first movement becomes a capricious story, a sharply shining adventure of sudden ideas, in which the cheerful, somewhat naive main character very soon gets of the straight and narrow, starts doubting, sits down pondering, or, all of a sudden, finds itself in a big dark forest, where the silence is only broken by the lonely call of an ominous bird. Or there is some valiant fighting for a short while, a thunderstorm threatens, but soon again the shining sun breaks through, and we walk on happily singing.

The slow movement, however simply it begins, after a single line already becomes a movingly loving song, an old story, or strands in deep melancholia. Or suddenly becomes a dreamy dance. Now and then it makes you think of Brahms. And the last movement is a hunt, a cheerful soldiers’ march, with the usual difficulties, a teasing game of tag, or a splendid dance party, with its different moods. But, and this is a speciality of Kirchner, all transitions, as abrupt as they come, are kept together by a clear, smartly written polyphony, which very often doesn’t do what you expect it to do, but always becomes logical afterwards.

These are peculiar sonatinas. This shows already in the first movement, with the famous sonata form. Because the first theme had to be simple and clear, referring to its classical examples, or even (ironically?) imitating them, it often starts of a bit naïvely good humoured, to then quickly get on the road into quite remote parts. Kirchner’s second themes are often very short; sometimes a mere motive, a quick tinge of minor, and seem to anticipate the adventures in the development. And two times we even don’t see them back at all in the development section; they only reappear at the end.

But isn’t this applying standards which belong to a different domain? Let us play and admire this music of fast changing light and colours for what it is. Perhaps it even suits our impatient times.