Leon Kirchner (January 24, 1919 – September 17, 2009) was an American composer of contemporary classical music. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Kirchner was born in Brooklyn, New York. He studied at the University of California, Los Angeles with Ernest Bloch and Arnold Schoenberg. Kirchner began graduate studies with Bloch at the University of California, Berkeley but he served in the military and studied in New York with Roger Sessions before completing his degree. He was Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor of Music at Harvard from 1961 to 1991.
While Kirchner lived in California, his piano teacher introduced him to the composer Ernst Toch. Kirchner also took a composition course with Schoenberg at the University of California at Los Angeles. Having won UCLA's highest musical award, the Prix de Paris, he had hoped to study in Europe, but was prevented from traveling by the outbreak of war in Europe, and instead went to New York for private study with Roger Sessions. Kirchner's musical style is highly influenced by Schoenberg though he did not employ the twelve-tone technique, preferring a generally linear chromatic language and irregular rhythms. He was awarded a Pulitzer prize for his String Quartet No. 3.
His notable students included Richard Wernick, John Adams, Tõnu Kalam, Lawrence Moss, Allen Shawn, Jonathan Kramer, Tison Street, Richard St. Clair, Jack Behrens, David Borden, Alan Gilbert, and Curt Cacioppo.
- Ringer, Alexander L. 2001. "Kirchner, Leon". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Swart, Inette. 2007. "Leon Kirchner's For the Left Hand: Effective Styles of Writing with Specific Reference to the Use of the Octatonic Scale". Musicus 35, no. 2:110–15.