Robert Kahn (composer)
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Kahn was born in Mannheim, the second son of Bernhard Kahn and Emma Eberstadt. One of his seven siblings was the wealthy financier Otto Kahn whose son Roger Wolfe Kahn was a successful jazz musician, composer and aviator. His parents belonged to a distinguished family of bankers and merchants. In 1882, Kahn entered the Königlichen Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, where he studied for the next three years. Between 1885 and 1886, he continued his musical education under the tutelage of Josef Rheinberger in Munich. On a visit to Vienna the following year, Kahn met and befriended composer Johannes Brahms, who offered to make Kahn his pupil. Although Kahn declined the invitation out of diffidence, Brahms's music would exert a profound influence on his compositional style throughout his career.
After finishing his military service, Kahn worked as a freelance composer in Berlin until 1890. For the next three years he was employed as a Korrepetitor (rehearsal pianist) at the Stadttheater in Leipzig. Having been appointed lecturer in composition at his alma mater in 1894, Kahn was responsible for the training of some of the leading musical luminaries of 20th century classical music. Among his famous students were pianists Arthur Rubinstein and Wilhelm Kempff, the conductor Ferdinand Leitner, the composers Nikos Skalkottas and Günter Raphael, as well as the violinist Karl Klinger.
While Kahn was composing and teaching in Berlin he also was active as chamber musician and Lied accompanist in concert with leading soloists and singers of his time, ranging from Joseph Joachim and Richard Mühlfeld to Adolf Busch, from Johann Messchaert to Ilona Durigo and Emmy Destinn.
In 1916, Kahn was elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts, a membership he held until 1934 when the Nazi regime ordered him to resign because he was a Jew. The Nazis also prohibited the publication and performance of his music. This drove him to leave Germany for England in 1938, where he spent the last years of his life in relative obscurity but inextinguishable creative power, which resulted in a voluminous collection of piano music with more than 1,000 still unpublished pieces. He died in Biddenden, Kent. Kahn and his music were almost entirely forgotten after World War II, but are slowly being rediscovered by musicians and audiences, as is the case of many other composers of "degenerate music" persecuted by the Nazis.
Kahn composed prolifically for the chamber repertoire, writing in an intimate, lyrical style that is reminiscent of Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms. Like his friend Brahms, Kahn eschewed the emotional extravagance of the late Romantics. His output included 2 piano quintets (besides the Quintet in C minor op.54 there is a Quintet in D Major from 1926), 2 string quartets, 3 piano quartets, 4 piano trios, 3 violin sonatas, 2 cello sonatas, several choral pieces, and numerous lieder. His only purely instrumental orchestral works were a serenade Aus der Jugendzeit ("From Youth") (1890) and a Konzertstück for piano and orchestra in E-flat minor, Op. 74 (1920).
Kahn was often commissioned to create works for some of the finest musicians of the early decades of the 20th century up to the young Adolf Busch with whom Kahn gave the first performance of his Suite op.69 for Violin and Piano. His first Violin Sonata in G minor was dedicated to Joseph Joachim who asked to perform it when Kahn was still a young student in Berlin, and even Clara Schumann mentioned this Sonata in her diary. The second Violin Sonata, in A minor, Op. 26 (1897) was dedicated to Joachim, while the String Quartet No. 1 in A major, Op. 8 (1889) was first performed by the Joachim Quartet. The second string quartet was premièred by the Klingler Quartet, the successor of the Joachim Quartet. Finally his clarinet trio op.45 was dedicated to and performed by the famous clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld who also inspired Brahms's late chamber compositions. Hans von Bülow conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in the world première of Kahn's orchestral serenade.
- Rilling, Helmuth: From Johannes Brahms to Robert Kahn: 1887, in: Bach, VI, 4, Okt. 1975, S. 20-22.
- Erwin, Charlotte, and Levi, Eric "Robert Kahn", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell (London: Macmillan, 2001)
- de:Bernhard Kahn
- see: Steffen Fahl, Tradition der Natürlichkeit, Studioverlag Sinzig, 1998 page 11-12
- Website about life and Music of Robert Kahn
- LexM Article (in german): Robert Kahn (by Steffen Fahl 2009)
- Lyrics of selected songs[permanent dead link]
- Robert Kahn's Chamber Music Soundbites and discussion of several works
- Free scores by Robert Kahn (composer) at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)