Prof. Dr. Helmut Kirchmeyer was born in Düsseldorf on 30th June 1930. After grammar school he studied musicology, German literature and philosophy at the University of Cologne, where he presented the first thesis in Germany on a living composer, I. Strawinsky, in 1954. He then studied legal affairs, concentrating on medieval law and legal history, criminology and sociology in Cologne and church history at the University of Bonn.
Since 1947 he attended classes at the Robert-Schumann-Institut in Düsseldorf (whose director he became in 1972), Franzpeter Goebels (piano) and Jürg Baur (Composition) were among his teachers, later Bernd Alois Zimmermann introduced him to instrumentation.
In 1982 he qualified as a university lecturer on musicology and musicological media studies at the University of Düsseldorf, he taught musicological bibliography and history at the Institut für Fachbibliographie in Cologne, and musicology at RWTH Aachen, at the Rheinische Musikschule in Cologne, at the University and at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf, at the latter he founded the first musicological institute at a German college of music, whose first head he became.
For years he worked as a critic, he worked for GEMA, edited the "Instrumentenbauzeitschrift", developed programmes for the WDR. He founded the Düsseldorf College of Music, he initiated and developed the record series "Wergo" on contemporary music, and "Ars Gregoriana", containing the largest documentation of Gregorian chant (more than 500 pieces on 33 LP/CD).
He gave the first lecture on music after 1945 at a German university and the first seminar on Karlheinz Stockhausen. He strongly supported contemporary music and was in touch with many contemporary composers. Herbert Eimert, the founder of the first electronic studio who died in 1972, bequeathed his letters (about 400) to him.
During his time in Düsseldorf the Partikasaal for orchestra rehearsals and chamber concerts was built, which was awarded the title "vorbildliches künstlerisches Bauwerk", underneath Emil Schult decorated a crypt, a tour of which Stockhausen composed.
Kirchmeyer was awarded the Wagner-Medaille, the Bundesverdienstkreuz I. Klasse and the Ordo Sancti Gregorii Magni. In 1992 he became a corresponding member of the Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig.
Kirchmeyer's studies are strongly influenced by bibliographical, legal and philological approaches, and by the thoughts of music ethnographer Marius Schneider, Kant and Jaspers.
For the first time in German musicology Kirchmeyer used newspapers and journals as sources for establishing what he calls "Situationsgeschichte", a mosaic picture of the past by combining contemporary evaluations of minute events with almost criminological assessment of their relative reliability. The thus established historical picture enables us to understand musical history as a sequence of minute historical-cultural situations and protects historical events as well as pieces of art from distorting (polemic or apologetic) approaches.
Kirchmeyer's books on Strawinsky (1958) and Wagner (1972) were highly successful. In the former he connected monographical and biographical elements to form a new type of "ergography", which in 2002 he systematically followed up in his bibliography of the works of I. Strawinsky. Since its publication Kirchmeyer has been working on his documentary on Wagner criticism again and he has begun to write his memoirs.