Kirchner was born in Brooklyn, New York. He began his music studies at the age of four. Five years later, his family moved to Los Angeles. He began composing while a student at Los Angeles City College. With the encouragement of his piano teachers and Ernst Toch, he entered the University of California, Los Angeles to study with Arnold Schoenberg. Kirchner began graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley and was awarded the George Ladd Prix de Paris in 1942. As World War II put Europe in turmoil, he went to New York and studied with Roger Sessions. At the war's end, he returned to Berkeley as a lecturer and assisted Sessions and Ernest Bloch in theory.
According to Alexander Ringer, he "remained consistently individual, unimpressed by changing fashion where 'idea, the precious ore of art, is lost in the jungle of graphs, prepared tapes, feedbacks and cold stylistic minutiae'."
Kirchner married Gertrude Schoenberg, a singer, on July 8, 1949; they had one son and one daughter. In 2009 he died of congestive heart failure at his home on Central Park West in New York City. He was 90.
1 2 CD liner notes of Leon Kirchner The Complete String Quartets, Albany Records, by Boston Composers String Quartet, based on conversations with and materials provided by Leon Kirchner, biographical sketch about the composer by Ellen Schantz.
1 2 David Ewen, The World of Twentieth-Century Music (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968): 421.
1 2 Anonymous, "Pulitzer Prize Winners", The Washington Post (May 2, 1967): A3.
1 2 Henry Raymont, "Moderns Crowd Marlboro Scene: Listeners Show Enthusiasm for Newer Composers", The New York Times (August 21, 1967): 39.
1 2 Peter Kihss, "Albee Play Wins Pulitzer; Malamud Novel Is Chosen", The New York Times (May 2, 1967): 1.
1 2 3 Nicolas Slonimsky, Laura Kuhn, and Dennis McIntire, "Kirchner, Leon", Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, enlarged 8th edition, edited by Nicolas Slonimsky and Laura Kuhn. Vol. 3 (New York, NY: Schirmer Books, 2001): 1887.