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The American pianist John Kirkpatrick (1905-1991) is remembered for his 1939 premiere performance of Charles Ives’s ‘Concord’ Sonata at New York City’s Town Hall auditorium, but this new biography also underlines his other achievements. Kirkpatrick championed new music by Aaron Copland, Carl Ruggles and other contemporaries. Despite spending decades as an expert in Ives studies at Yale University, Kirkpatrick was hardly a born academic, having twice abandoned his studies at Princeton University. He later headed for Paris, where, as music historian Jan Swafford noted, he ‘kept a mistress financed by his brother and flirted with the occult’. Kirkpatrick also studied with the eminent pedagogue Isidor Philipp, of whom he wrote: ‘If Philipp told me to insert another arbitrary crescendo, I thought I would go mad.’ Though he first became aware of Ives’s thorny ‘Concord’ Sonata in 1927, Kirkpatrick did not try to study it seriously until six years later. Instead, he helped promote keyboard works by American composers Roy Harris and Virgil Thomson, as well as the now-forgotten Hunter Johnson (1906-1998), whose Piano Sonata Kirkpatrick performed almost twice as often as he did the ‘Concord’ Sonata, despite the former being, in Massey’s view, ‘derivative’ of Harris’s 1928 Piano Sonata ‘to the point of paraphrase’. Detailed on Kirkpatrick as an editor of piano music, John Kirkpatrick, American Music, and the Printed Page lacks real appreciation of his spiky, individualist keyboard artistry, which animated even familiar repertoire such as Edward MacDowell’s To a Water Lily.

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Piano International, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing