A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Hiller, Ferdinand

HILLER, Dr. Ferdinand, one of the most eminent of living German musicians, distinguished alike as composer, conductor, pianist, and writer, born of Jewish parents at Frankfort on the Main, Oct. 24, 1811. His first music-lessons were from a violinist named Hofmann, who did little beyond allowing him to form his taste by playing the sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven. Instruction on the pianoforte he received from Aloys Schmidt, and in harmony and counterpoint from Vollweiler. At 10 he played a concerto of Mozart's in public, and at 12 began to compose. Though educated for a learned profession, he was allowed to take up the study of music in earnest; and in 1825 was placed with Hummel at Weimar. Here for a time his attention was absorbed by composition, for Hummel, recognising his obvious bent, allowed him to take his own course. His master's criticisms on his early compositions were severe and disheartening, but Hiller proved the reality of his artistic impulse by never allowing himself to be discouraged from further effort and deeper study, both in music and literature. In 1827 he accompanied Hummel on a professional tour to Vienna, and had the privilege of seeing Beethoven on his death-bed and of witnessing the dissipation of the cloud which had once interrupted his intercourse with Hummel. Of this meeting he has given an interesting account from memory in his 'Aus dem Tonleben' (2nd series). While in Vienna he published his op. 1, a pianoforte quartet written in Weimar. He then returned to Frankfort, but stayed there only a short time, in spite of his advantageous intercourse with Schelble, as he was anxious to push on to Paris, at that time the head-quarters of music and everything else. His stay in Paris lasted from 1828 to 35, with one break caused by the death of his father. He acted for a time as professor in Choron'a 'Institution de Musique,' but afterwards lived independently, perfecting himself as a pianist and composer, and enjoying the best society. There is scarcely a well-known man of that period, particularly among musicians, with whom Hiller was not on good terms. Besides Mendelssohn, whom he met as a boy at Frankfort and with whom he remained in the closest friendship to a late date, he was intimate with Cherubini, Rossini, Chopin, Liszt, Meyerbeer, Berlioz, Nourrit, Heine, and many others. Fétis, in his Biographie Universelle gives further particulars of this stay in Paris, and especially of Hiller's concerts, in which Fétis took part. Suffice it to say here that his performances of Bach and Beethoven had an important share in making the works of those great masters better known in France. He was the first to play Beethoven's E♭ Concerto in Paris; and his classical soirees, given in company with Baillot, excited much attention at the time. From Paris he returned to Frankfort, conducted the Cæcilien-Verein in 1836 and 37 during Schelble's illness, and then passed on to Milan, where he again met Liszt and Rossini. Rossi furnished him with the libretto of 'Romilda,' which he set to music, and which, through the intervention of Rossini, was produced at the Scala in 1839, but without success. Here also he began his oratorio 'Die Zerstörung Jerusalems,' perhaps his most important work, and one that interested Mendelssohn so much that he induced Hiller to pass the winter of 1839 in Leipsic, personally superintending its production (April 2, 1840), which was most successful, and was followed by performances at Frankfort, Berlin, Dresden, Vienna, Amsterdam, and elsewhere. On his second journey to Italy in 1841, he went to Rome, and studied old Italian Church music under the guidance of Baini, of whom he has recorded his recollections ('Tonleben,' ii. 101). On his return to Germany he lived successively in Frankfort, Leipsic (conducting the Gewandhaus Concerts of 1843–4), and Dresden. Here he produced two more operas, 'Traum in der Christnacht,' and 'Conradin.' During this time he lived on intimate terms with Spohr, Mendelssohn, the Schumanns, David, Hauptmann, Joachim, and many more illustrious artists. A lasting memorial of this period is preserved in the dedication of Schumann's P. F. Concerto to him—'freundschaftlich zugeeignet.' In 1847 he became municipal capellmeister at Düsseldorf, and in 1850 accepted a similar post at Cologne, where he organised the Conservatorium, and became its first director. This post he still (1879) retains, and in his various capacities of composer, conductor, teacher, and litterateur, has exercised an important influence on music in the Rhenish Provinces. He gave such an impetus to the musical society of which he was conductor, that its concerts have been long considered among the best in Germany. The Lower Rhine Festivals, which he conducted from 1850 as often as they were held at Cologne, have however chiefly contributed to gain him his high reputation as a conductor. As a teacher his career is closely connected with the history of the Cologne Conservatorium. Among his numerous pupils there, the best-known is Max Bruch. He has occasionally left Cologne to make concert-tours in Germany, or longer excursions abroad. He conducted the Italian opera in Paris for a time (1852–53), and visited Vienna and St. Petersburg, where in 1870 he conducted a series of concerts by the Russian Musical Society. England he has visited several times, particularly in 1871 [App. p.673 "1870"], when his cantata 'Nala und Damajanti' was performed at the Birmingham Festival, and in 1872, when he was enthusiastically received both as a pianist and conductor of his own works at the Monday Popular and Crystal Palace Concerts, and also in Liverpool and Manchester. [App. p.673 "he conducted the Philharmonic Concerts in 1852 and died May 10, 1885."]

Hiller's published works (to Feb. 1879) number 183. They include, Chamber music—5 P.F. quartets; 5 trios; 5 string quartets; Sonatas for P.F. alone, and with violin and cello; a suite 'in Canone' for P.F. and violin; Serenade for P.F. and cello; 'Moderne Suite' for P.F.; and a mass of other pianoforte compositions, including 24 Etudes, 'rhythmische Studien,' Impromptu 'zur Guitarre,' operettas without words, etc. etc. Orchestral works—4 overtures, including that to 'Demetrius'; a Festival March for the opening of the Albert Hall; 3 symphonies, including that with the motto 'Es muss doch Frühling werden'; etc. etc. Vocal compositions—2 oratorios, 'Die Zerstörung Jerusalems' and 'Saul'; 5 operas, including 'Die Katacomben,' 'Der Deserteur,' and many smaller works; Lieder; choruses, mixed and for men's voices only; motets, psalms, etc.; a number of cantatas for soli, chorus, and orchestra, especially 'O weint um Sie' from Byron's Hebrew Melodies, op. 49, 'Ver sacrum,' op. 75; 'Nala und Damajanti,' written for Birmingham; 'Israels Siegesgesang,' op. 151; and his 'Prometheus,' op. 175, and 'Rebecca,' op. 182. His literary works include a crowd of interesting articles, biographical, critical, and miscellaneous, contributed to the 'Kölnische Zeitung,' many of them republished under the title 'Aus dem Tonleben unserer Zeit,' 2 volumes in 1867, with a 'Neue Folge' in 1871, and a 4th vol. 'Persönliches und Musikalisches' in 1876. He has also published his recollections of Mendelssohn—which appeared in Macmillan's Magazine, and were reprinted separately with a dedication to Queen Victoria—and a very interesting paper on Cherubini, first printed in the same periodical. He has recently edited a volume of letters by Hauptmann to Spohr and other well-known musicians. To complete the list, we may add—additional accompaniments for Handel's 'Deborah' (for the Lower Rhine Festival 1834), and 'Theodora'; and an instruction book 'Uebungen zum Studium der Harmonie und des Contrapuncts' (2nd ed. 1860).

Hiller occupies in some respect the same position which Spohr held before his death, as the 'Altmeister,' the representative of the old classical school. His pleasant genial personality, and his great intelligence and wide range of knowledge, make him welcome wherever he goes. In England he has many friends, who are always glad to see him, and hear his delicate legato style of playing, soon, alas, to be numbered with the things of the past.

Being throughout his life in easy circumstances, he has been always able to indulge his taste for a variety of intellectual interests, to the neglect perhaps of that concentration of the whole powers which is necessary to stamp any mental production as a work of genius. But the advantages of such an education were not lost upon him. He gained from it a general ease and flexibility of mind, and a refined taste for all that is intellectual. These are the qualities which, combined with his avoidance of all mere dilettanteism, and his grasp of that which is sterling, grave, and essential, have enabled him to accomplish something of value in each department he has touched. It is not easy to point out the special characteristics of his work, as it possesses few of those prominent traits which catch the eye at once. Although he has been constantly attracted by the classical period, his talent is essentially modern, as his elegant and well-chosen melody, his piquant rhythm, and his interesting harmony, never trivial, sufficiently prove. Humorous and graceful, rather than profound, his mode of expression is always elevated, pleasing, and clever, and with a delicate polish of each separate part which is very characteristic. Facility of invention, and mastery of the technicalities of composition may have sometimes supplied the place of true creative instinct; but give him a really important theme, and he produces music that will undoubtedly live. His 'Destruction of Jerusalem,' his Spring Symphony in E minor (already mentioned), his Pianoforte Concerto in F♯ minor, and more than one of his pianoforte works, are surely destined to survive. All his writings, both in music and literature, show real talent and thought, a genuine artistic turn of mind, and often a very happy mode of expression. He forms one of that circle of musicians, a few of whom are still living, who have made it the object of their lives to extend the knowledge of classical music. At a time when Italian opera, and a brilliant and important though somewhat barren devotion to mere execution, exercised an undue influence on the minds of musicians, these men upheld the standard of serious and solid music, and it is largely owing to their indefatigable exertions that Bach's deep thought and Beethoven's passionate energy are appreciated as they now are. Brought up and living to old age in this classical atmosphere, a friend of Mendelssohn and Schumann, and thinking with them on these subjects, Hiller has naturally but little sympathy with the so-called new German school. He has never concealed his sentiments on this point, but we may confidently say that he has never expressed them in a manner unworthy of him as a man or an artist.

[ A. M. ]