Both pianist and scholar, John Kirkpatrick attended Princeton University after which he continued his musical studies in France with Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau. While in Paris in 1927, Kirkpatrick was visiting a friend, the American pianist Katherine Heyman, when he saw a copy of the Piano Sonata No. 2 by Charles Ives on her piano. At Heyman’s suggestion he wrote to Ives, who sent him a copy of the sonata and his Essays. During the 1930s Kirkpatrick studied the work, and corresponded with Ives about certain details, at one point in 1935 sending him a questionnaire. By 1938 Kirkpatrick had learnt the whole sonata and performed it twice; the second time was from memory. On 20 January 1939 at New York’s Town Hall he played Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C Op. 53, the ‘Waldstein’, and the complete ‘Concord’ Sonata. The influential music critic of the New York Herald Tribune wrote a glowing review of the work, commending Kirkpatrick for overcoming the ‘appalling’obstacles of this ‘almost unplayable’sonata. ‘His performance was that of a poet and a master, an unobtrusive minister of genius.’
After the death of Ives in 1954, the Ives family requested that Kirkpatrick should attempt to catalogue the manuscripts of the composer. This catalogue was completed by 1960 when Yale University published it as a ‘temporary’ catalogue. Kirkpatrick was, of course, by this time an acknowledged Ives specialist and in 1973 he edited Ives’s Memos for publication as well as preparing many of the compositions for performance from the almost illegible manuscripts. He also published articles on Aaron Copland’s Piano Sonata, the music of Carl Ruggles, a preface to Ives’s Symphony No 4, and Performance as an Avenue to Educational Realities in Music.
Although he received critical acclaim for his vanguard performance of Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2, Kirkpatrick was not asked to record it until 1948. Initially released by Columbia on 78rpm discs, Bette Marshall it was also issued on LP. Kirkpatrick recorded the work again in stereo for Columbia in 1968, but to date, neither of these important recordings has appeared on compact disc. In 1954 Kirkpatrick accompanied soprano Helen Boatwright in a recording of twenty-four songs by Charles Ives. This was originally issued on the Overtone label and reissued on compact disc in 1994 by Composers Recording Inc.
More a scholar than a performing pianist, Kirkpatrick’s work on behalf of Charles Ives is immeasurable, and he led the way for other performers of the ‘Concord’Sonata such as Gilbert Kalish and Roberto Szidon.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Non-Classical Composer