Missing me one place search another

Regular readers might recall, I won’t ever forget, that I went not so long ago to visit the composer Leon Kirchner, and he jokingly compared me to Walt Whitman. I hadn’t read Whitman’s verse since high school, and even at my hormonal heights, penning maudlin teen poetry by the rhyming bushel, I found him over the top.

But so it happened that, a week ago, coming back from a long day of editing the “Concord” Sonata, I stopped in Grand Central Station—where Ives must have come and gone many times—and bought myself a pretty copy of Leaves of Grass. I started reading it in the subway with blurry eyes and a brain filled with dissonance, and it didn’t seem over the top at all. It seemed like a clear voice I had been missing, which Leon’s quip had brought back into my life. I started reading bits to my friends over the phone. And so it happened also that I started carrying it around with me, wherever I went … and it was in my bag this morning, slung over my shoulder, as I was walking down 9th Avenue, and clicked on my iPhone, and learned that Leon was dead.

Opening the book to a random page on 57th street, I found:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then … I contradict myself;
I am large …. I contain multitudes.
I concentrate towards them that are nigh … I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work and will soonest be through with his
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? Will you prove already too late?

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me … he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed … I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the
     shadowed wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air …. I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you

Some difficulty. Am back at home, looking at a giant writing project on the Goldberg Variations which I am supposed to finish, f&*(). How I wish I could ask Leon about them right now.

The answer would take longer than the piece, it would ramble, and you would hardly know what it was or what it meant, it would be good health to you nevertheless …. its important meanings would stop some where waiting for you to find them. You planted so many seeds in my brain, Leon, you lion, the last of which I guess was Whitman; another was the endlessly recombining quest and beautiful urge of your music; another crucial one was your faith in me; I’ll wait for the others (I’m sure there are others) to grow; I miss you.

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  1. leizl
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to hear of his passing. I went to play your recorded CD of him .We will miss this great composer.
    You’re the first one to post of his death. Let’s hope it will be in the news today.

  2. Posted September 17, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I have to say that this piece had such a strong effect on me that it resonated onto my own blog in a piece I called “
    Conversing with the Dead
    ,” which I invite you (any anyone else interested) to read.

  3. Aaron
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    I learned of this news through your blog. It must be quite recent, since I can’t find any items in Google News, and the only other mention is an update of his Wikipedia article. I hope some full obituaries will be forthcoming.

  4. Bill Breakstone
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Hello Jeremy;

    Attended your performances at Lincoln Center (Mostly Mozart and Kaplan Penthouse), and at Caramoor. You’re a great talent.

    I am a lifelong student of classical music and opera, studied music history at Michigan, piano at Julliard, and composining and conducting privately with Ford Lallerstedt of The Curtis Institute.

    I created a Blog last week, dealing with several subjects, including serious music. My latest post today dealt with the German composer Hans Pfitzner. If you have time, please check my Blog out, as I will continue to follow yours.


    Bill Breakstone

  5. Aaron
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    OK, now we have a notice that an obituary will be posted soon on NYT: Leon Kirchner, Composer, Dies at 90

  6. Michael
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I am new to Kirchner’s work…. Which piece is it at the bottom of the page?

  7. Stephen Llewellyn
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    My condolences, Jeremy. It’s hard to celebrate a life you miss so much but I look forward to the time you are able to do that with Leon Kirchner. Best wishes from PDX.

  8. leizl
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    Leon Kirchner Piano Sonata #2 piano by one and only Jeremy Denk.

  9. leizl
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, my mistake. The piece sounds like duo for violin and piano.

  10. leizl
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    My earlier post was never received, what happened?

    I just want to correct that it’s not the piano sonata but instead the piece sounds like duo for piano and violin #2.

  11. Lydia
    Posted September 19, 2009 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    Sad news…moving post, and a fabulous poem that resonates anew every time you read it. So familiar yet each time it rings out with a clarity that makes you wonder if you have ever really read it before. Thanks for sharing… and drawing me back to it again.

    I have a feeling that I was in that class when you read that Whitman the first time, ha! That is, unless, my googling is as bad as my prose. Which is possible, but not likely. Anyway nice to see your shining face and hear you are well if a bit sad at the moment.

    All the best

  12. Kerry
    Posted September 19, 2009 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    I am sorry for your loss.

  13. Posted September 20, 2009 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    My condolences, Jeremy. I just sat down to do some day job work on Sunday night, and happened to be listening to Morimur because I’ve been thinking about the Chaconne this week, and opened the NYT to see the death notice – and I thought of how eloquently you spoke of Kirchner’s work at the regional chamber music festival in my state.

  14. Lynn in Oregon
    Posted September 21, 2009 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    What a moving and personal tribute to Leon Kirchner and to the seeds he has planted in your life.

    I learned about your blog today from Fred Child–he spoke of it with great praise on Performance Today, also noting today the death of your friend and colleague and playing your performance of the Mendelssohn trio with Ani Kavafian and Gary Hoffman. Thank you for your words and your music.

  15. roducl
    Posted September 23, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Back in the late 60’s I worked at the Marlboro Music Festival (on the staff – mostly schlepped pianos and emptied Casals’ garbage). I have many memories of the terrific music-making that Kirchner was involved in there – rehearsals of his 3rd quartet; an overheard lunch-time conversation between Leon and Jaime Laredo about the sexual energy in Bartok; a performance of Berg’s Kammerkonzert led by Leon that could only be described as evocative of Schubert in its great singing heart (the pianist was Murry Perhia who told me he hated the piece but he played it beautifully; just for Leon, he said). Thanks, Jeremy for bringing that back to me.

  16. Posted September 28, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    My thoughts are with you

  17. Shawn
    Posted October 18, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    This is the first time I’ve read your blog, and I’m deeply moved by your passion for the arts. I am sorry for your loss.

  18. Posted October 23, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jeremy,
    I stopped by to congratulate you for your wonderful performance at the Richmond Symphony last week. Thanks … I stayed on high for 72 hours post-concert just on the residual energy from that Prokofiev piece !


  19. Genevieve Jones
    Posted November 1, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Have you ever been to Whitman’s Birthplace? It is on Long Island somewhere.

  20. Karen Forbes
    Posted November 6, 2009 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jeremy-
    I thought you and your readers might enjoy this youtube video of a “piano” staircase in Stockholm.

    I was so sorry to miss your recital in Philly on the 28th due to the unfortunate timing I had in contracting the flu. I look forward to getting a chance to say hello when you and Josh play at the McCarter Theater in Feb.

    –Karen (your host from Lafayette College)

  21. Posted November 8, 2009 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    You are lucky to have had him in your life.

  22. Janet
    Posted November 22, 2009 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    It was delightful to successfully search for you today in Greenwich, but I confess that I am still missing you in this place.

  23. Posted September 22, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to hear ,We will all miss this great composer.

  24. Posted September 27, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    It’s always wonderful to know someone that talented, to allow them to push you to new heights and discover new things about yourself. I’m sorry for your loss, but may his influence live eternally through your triumphs.

  25. Posted September 27, 2010 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always been a fan of Whitman myself, the piece actually goes pretty well with the poem if you move it to about a minute and a half or thereabouts. I won’t pretend to know him as well as you did, but any time a musical great is lost I believe the whole world weeps.

  26. Posted October 16, 2010 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Sorry to learn of Leons passing. Your blog readers might enjoy this piece on Youtube

One Trackback

  • By R.I.P. Leon Kirchner « Sound is Grammar on September 18, 2009 at 2:13 am

    […] in the New York Times and on NewMusicBox. But more touching, I think, is Jeremy Denk’s heartfelt farewell. Posted by SoundisGrammar Filed in Uncategorized Leave a Comment […]

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