Fürchtegott Theodor Kirchner (born at Neukirchen near Chemnitz, 10 December 1823; died in Hamburg, 18 September 1903) was a significant German composer and pianist of the Romantic era.
Kirchner enjoyed the friendship and admiration of many leading composers of the 19th century yet was unable to maintain a successful career, apparently due to a disordered way of life which included extravagant spending and an addiction to gambling.
An accomplished organist and pianist at the age of eight, in 1843 he became organist in Winterthur, Switzerland on the recommendation of Mendelssohn. He remained there for nearly 20 years, but travelled much in Germany, befriending the Schumanns and Brahms. (Clara Schumann was very fond of him, though she wrote that 'in his character there is no stability', and it appears they had a discreet affair in the early 1860s). In 1862 Kirchner moved to Zurich as the director of the subscription concerts there. This only lasted three years and he then embarked on an itinerant career as pianist and accompanist.
He married in 1868 but the marriage was not a success. After a spell from 1870 as organist in Zurich he moved to Meiningen as court pianist in 1872 and next year was made director of the Conservatory in Würzburg. From 1876-1883 he lived in Leipzig, then until 1890 taught score-reading in Dresden. In 1884 Brahms, Hanslick, Gade, Grieg and Hans von Bülow raised 30,000 marks to enable Kirchner to pay off his debts. In 1890 he abandoned his wife and family and moved to Hamburg, where he was looked after by a former pupil. Two strokes left him paralysed in 1894 and he became completely blind in his last years.
Kirchner was esteemed by among others Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann (who wrote approvingly of him in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik), Brahms, Liszt, Wagner and Grieg.
Compositions and arrangements
He was a gifted arranger whose transcriptions include the realization of Brahms's two String Sextets as Piano Trios; he also made the vocal score of Brahms's German Requiem and solo piano arrangements of the Third and Fourth Sets of Hungarian Dances and the Liebeslieder Walzer. As a composer he was an intense Romantic lyricist and a natural miniaturist--he is credited with having written over 1000 piano pieces (mainly collected in cycles) of which many are only a minute or so in duration--a kind of 19th-century forerunner of Webern's Bagatelles. His Waltzes, opus 23, composed in 1876, are dedicated to Brahms and the suite of 'characteristic pieces', Nachtbilder, opus 25 quotes Brahms's song Wie bist du, meine Königen. There are also some organ pieces and songs and a few choral and chamber works, but no orchestral music at all, though his friend Heinrich Schülz-Beuthen made an orchestral suite out of some of Kirchner's piano pieces.
Kirchner's complete works are being published by Amadeus in Winterthur.