Volker David Kirchner

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Volker David Kirchner
Born25 June 1942
Mainz, Germany
Died4 February 2020(2020-02-04) (aged 77)
Wiesbaden, Germany
  • Violist
  • Chamber musician
  • Composer

Volker David Kirchner (25 June 1942 – 4 February 2020)[1] was a German composer and violist. After studies of violin and composition at the Peter Cornelius Conservatory, the Hochschule für Musik Köln and the Hochschule für Musik Detmold, he worked for decades as a violist in the Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt. He was simultaneously the violist in the Kehr Trio founded by his violin teacher Günter Kehr, and a composer of incidental music at the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden.

He was known for his operas which were commissioned by major German opera houses. Die Trauung was premiered at Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden in 1975, Die fünf Minuten des Isaak Babel, described as a scenic Requiem, premiered at the Opernhaus Wuppertal in 1980, and Gilgamesh was commissioned for the Expo 2000 and staged at the Staatsoper Hannover. His operas often focus on historic personalities such as Savonarola and Gutenberg. Kirchner also composed two symphonies, concertos, keyboard music, sacred music such as the Missa Moguntina for the Mainz Cathedral, and especially chamber music. His music has been recorded, and performed internationally.[1]


Born in Mainz, Kirchner took his first violin lessons with his grandfather.[2] He studied at the Peter Cornelius Conservatory in Mainz from 1956 to 1959, violin with Günter Kehr and musical composition with Günter Raphael. On a recommendation by Kehr, he then studied at the Hochschule für Musik Köln from 1959 to 1963, where he was influenced by composers Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez.[2] Kirchner studied further with Tibor Varga at the Hochschule für Musik Detmold from 1964 to 1965.[3] He played in jazz ensembles in Cologne.[4]

After a concert of the Kehr Trio at the Marble Palace in Tehran on 13 April 1965, Farah Diba greets (from left) Braunholz, Kirchner and Kehr.

Kirchner was principal violist in the chamber orchestra Rheinisches Kammerorchester Köln from 1962 to 1964.[5] He was a violist of the Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt (RSO) from 1966 to 1988.[3] As a chamber musician, he played viola in the Kehr Trio, with his teacher as the violinist and cellist Bernhard Braunholz, recording and touring in South America, North Africa and the Near East.[4] In 1970, he co-founded the Ensemble 70 in Wiesbaden. From 1972 to 1974, he was also a composer of incidental music (Bühnenmusik) for the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden.[1][3] It prepared him for writing his operas, with a focus on the relation of text and music.[2]

He became known when his first opera was premiered in 1975, Die Trauung (The Wedding), after Witold Gombrowicz's The Marriage. It was played on 27 April 1975 at the Staatstheater Wiesbaden, conducted by Siegfried Köhler. Kirchner was then commissioned to write more stage works. During the 1980s, Generalmusikdirektor Siegfried Köhler promoted his operas in Wiesbaden,[6] conducting in 1981 Das kalte Herz (The cold heart) after a fairy-tale by Wilhelm Hauff, revised in 1987 for a performance on 27 October 1988 at the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz in Munich. Kirchner's Die fünf Minuten des Isaak Babel (The five minutes of Isaac Babel), subtitled A Scenic Requiem, premiered on 19 April 1980 at the Opernhaus Wuppertal, conducted by Hanns-Martin Schneidt and staged by Friedrich Meyer-Oertel.[7] Belshazar premiered in 1985 at the Bavarian State Opera, and Gilgamesch premiered for the Expo 2000 in Hanover.[1][2] The production at the Staatsoper Hannover was staged by Hans-Peter Lehmann in a set design by Ekkehard Grübler, and conducted by Stefan Sanderling.[8] His Violin Concerto was first performed in the Berliner Philharmonie in 1984, and his Requiem Messa di pace received its first performance in Moscow 1990 for the opening of a festival.[2][6] Musicians such as violinists Ulf Hoelscher and Christian Tetzlaff, violist Tabea Zimmermann, cellists Yo Yo Ma, Wolfgang Boettcher and Martin Ostertag, and pianists Lars Vogt and Nina Tichmann [de] played his music, in collaboration with conductors such as Gerd Albrecht, Leif Segerstam and Eliahu Inbal.[2]

Kirchner moved to Mainz and became a freelance composer in 1988.[9] Invited by Walter Fink, he was the third composer featured in the annual Komponistenporträt of the Rheingau Musik Festival in 1992.[10] In 1997, the Kleines Haus of the Staatstheater Mainz opened with his Labyrinthos.[6] In 2010, he was one of five living composers, with Toshio Hosokawa, Helmut Lachenmann, Wolfgang Rihm and Jörg Widmann, whose music celebrated the 80th birthday of Walter Fink in a concert of the Rheingau Musik Festival. His piano piece was titled Nachlese (Gleaning).[11]

Kirchner died in Wiesbaden on 4 February 2020 at the age of 77.[1]


Kirchner's compositions have included solo pieces, string quartets and other chamber music, symphonies and solo concertos, culminating in works for the stage.[2] His operas often have a political background. Isaak Babel, a 1980 work, shows a person facing the Russian Revolution. Savonarola, a 2011 opera, deals with the short reign of a religious fanatic. Gutenberg, written in 2012, shows the genius from Mainz who had difficulties introducing his invention.[12] Kirchner composed the mass Missa Moguntina in 1993 especially for the Mainz Cathedral, reflecting his roots.[2] The text is the Latin mass expanded by Psalm 130, "De profundis", and Kirchner studied the acoustics of the cathedral.[13]

Kirchner's works were published by Schott, including:[3]


Sacred music

  • Requiem – Messa di Pace for soloist, choir and orchestra (1988)
  • Missa Moguntina for soloist, choir, two echo-choirs, orchestra and organ (1993)
  • Aus den 53 Tagen, Passion music for soloists, mixed chorus, male chorus, boys chorus, speaker (Evangelist) and orchestra (1998); commissioned by the "93. Deutscher Katholikentag" in Mainz


  • Choral Variations for 15 solo strings (1967–1968)
  • Bildnisse I for orchestra (1981–1982)
  • Bildnisse II for orchestra (1983–1984)
  • Bildnisse III: Hommage à W. A. Mozart for small orchestra (1989–1991)
  • Symphony No. 2 "Mythen" (1992), premiered in Wiesbaden as part of the Rheingau Musik Festival


  • Nachtstück: Varianten über eine Wagnersche Akkordverbindung (Nocturne: Variations on a Wagnerian Chord Progression) for viola and chamber orchestra (1980–1981, revised 1983)
  • Schibboleth, Poème Concertante for viola and orchestra (1989)
  • Violin Concerto (Homage à Krzysztof Penderecki) (1981–1982)
  • Oboe Concerto (1997–1998)

Chamber music

  • Dybuk for marimba solo (1995)
  • Aus dem Buch der Könige, 3 Meditations for cello solo (2000)
  • Piano Trio (1979)
  • String Quartet [No.1] (1982–1983)
  • Mysterion for altoflute, horn, viola d'amore, cello and piano (1985)
  • Lamento d'Orfeo for horn and piano (1986)
  • Drei Lieder (2 Songs) for medium voice, horn, violin, cello and piano (1985–1986)
  • Und Salomo sprach ... (And Solomon spoke) for cello solo (1987)
  • Tre poemi (3 Poems) for horn and piano (1986–1987)
  • Der blaue Harlekin (Hommage à Picasso) for flute, clarinet, 2 bassoons (also contrabassoon), 2 trumpets and 2 trombones (1981)
  • Saitenspiel for violin and cello (1993)
  • Gethsemani, Notturno for string sextet (1994)
  • Quartet for clarinet, violin, cello and piano (1984)
  • Il canto della notte, Poema for clarinet, horn, piano, violin, viola and cello (1997–1998)
  • Orphischer Gesang II for string sextet (1998)
  • String Trio (2000)
  • String Quartet No. 2 (1999)
  • String Quartet No. 3 (2000)
  • String Quartet No. 4 with obligato clarinet (2000)
  • String Quartet No. 5 (2000, revised 2002)
  • String Quartet No. 6 (2000)
  • "Meine Augen möchte ich erfreuen, Shulamith..." for flute, horn, viola, cello and piano (2001)
  • Pierrots Galgenlieder for clarinet solo (2001)
  • Kreuzweg for 2 oboes and English horn (2001)
  • Pietà, Partita for violin solo (2001)
  • Threnos for solo cello (2006); written for the Feuermann Competition
  • Strophen for 2 clarinets (also bass clarinet) and piano (2007)


  • Piano Sonata (1985–1986)
  • Luces and Sombras, 5 Tangos for piano (1999)
  • Con mortuis in lingua mortua, three pieces for organ (2000)
  • Nachlese for piano (2010); commissioned by Walter Fink for his 80th birthday[10]


Kirchner's mass Missa Moguntina was recorded in 1993, with soloists Maria Karb, Alison Browner, Mads Elung-Jensen, Johannes M. Kösters and Gregory Reinhart, organist Albert Schönberger, the Mainzer Domchor and Domkantorei St. Martin, and the Mainzer Domorchester, conducted by Mathias Breitschaft.[24]

A recording of his quartet Exil for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, composed in 1995, was combined on a 2015 recording Beyond Time[25] with Fabian Müller's Am Anfang for soprano and ensemble, and Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps.[26]

In 2016, a recording of vocal chamber music was released entitled Media vita in morte sumus (In the midst of life we are in death) – vocal chamber music by Volker David Kirchner, containing three song collections, Obsidian-Gesänge on poems by Dana Obsidian for voice, horn, volin, cello and piano (2013), Es ist ein Weinen in der Welt, setting poems by Else Lasker-Schüler, for voice and piano (2011–2013), and Media vita in morte sumus on poems by Erich Michelsberg for soprano, clarinet, horn, piano and string trio (2006–2007).[27]


Kirchner received a prize from Rhineland-Palatinate for young composers in 1974, for his first opera Die Trauung. In 1977, he was awarded the Kunstpreis Rheinland-Pfalz and in 1992 the Gutenberg Plaque of Mainz.[4] In 1994, Kirchner was the first recipient of the Rheingau Musikpreis of the Rheingau Musik Festival.[28] In 1995, he received the composer's prize of the Niedersächsische Sparkassenstiftung and the Kreissparkasse Hannover, and in 2007, the Peter Cornelius Plaque [de] of Rhineland-Palatinate, the highest honour of the state.[1][3] In 2014, Kirchner was awarded the "Preis für die Verdienste um die Musikkultur" by the Landesmusikrat Rheinland-Pfalz, in connection with the premiere of the orchestral composition Der mythische Fluss played by the Landesjugendorchester Rheinland-Pfalz (State youth orchestra of Rhineland-Palatinate).[29]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Mainzer Komponist Volker David Kirchner gestorben". SWR (in German). 4 February 2020. Retrieved 5 February 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Stern, Dietrich (24 December 2016). "Berühmte Rheinhessen: Komponist Volker David Kirchner". Allgemeine Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Volker David Kirchner". Schott. 2018. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  4. ^ a b c "Volker David Kirchner". (in German). 2017. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Konzertabend für Volker David Kirchner". Herrenhaus Edenkoben (in German). 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Stern, Dietrich (24 June 2017). "Komponist Volker David Kirchner wird 75 Jahre alt: Oper "Missa Moguntina" vor dem Mainzer Dom". Main-Spitze (in German). Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  7. ^ "Die fünf Minuten des Isaak Babel" (in German). Schott. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Gilgamesh". Theatertexte (in German). Retrieved 5 February 2020.
  9. ^ Schaller, Erica. "Volker David Kirchner". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
  10. ^ a b "Komponistenwerkstatt: Walter Fink zum 80. Geburtstag" (in German). Rheingau Musik Festival. 2010. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013. Retrieved 5 August 2010.
  11. ^ Hauff, Andreas (8 September 2010). "Ehrungen und Raritäten. Die Endphase beim Rheingau-Musik-Festival". Neue Musikzeitung (in German). Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  12. ^ a b Becker, Roberta (24 March 2016). "Digitale Revolution / Gutenberg". Online Musik Magazin (in German). Retrieved 5 February 2020.
  13. ^ "Missa Moguntina". Schott. 2018. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  14. ^ Riten / für kleines Klangtheater Schott
  15. ^ Die Trauung Schott
  16. ^ Die fünf Minuten des Isaak Babel / Szenisches Requiem in zwölf Bilderng Schott
  17. ^ Das kalte Herz / Ein deutsches Märchen Schott
  18. ^ Belshazar Schott
  19. ^ Erinys Schott
  20. ^ Inferno d'amore (Shakespearion I) Schott
  21. ^ Labyrinthos (Shakespearion II) Schott
  22. ^ Gilgamesh Schott
  23. ^ Ahasver Schott
  24. ^ Missa Moguntina Schott
  25. ^ Media Vita in Morte Sumus: Vocal Chamber Music by Volker David Kirchner AllMusic
  26. ^ Dave Billinge: Beyond Time / Fabian Müller / Am Anfang - Drei Versuche, die Welt zu erfinden (2010/15) / Volker David Kirchner) / Exil (1995) / Olivier Messiaen / Quatuor pour la fin du Temps October 2016
  27. ^ Media vita in morte sumus – vocal chamber music by Volker David Kirchner
  28. ^ "Rheingau Musik Preis 2017 an Enoch zu Guttenberg und die Chorgemeinschaft Neubeuern" (in German). Rheingau Musik Festival. 2017. Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  29. ^ "Landesjugendorchester Rheinland-Pfalz spielt Uraufführung von Volker David Kirchner". (in German). 4 September 2014. Retrieved 20 June 2018.

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