A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Hiller, Johann

HILLER, Johann Adam, whose real name was Hüller, born Dec. 25, 1728 (4 years before Joseph Haydn), at Wendisch-Ossig near Gerlitz in Prussia, the son of a school-master and parishclerk. He lost his father when barely six, and had a hard struggle to obtain his education. He possessed a fine treble voice, and had already acquired considerable facility on various instruments, and he quickly turned these talents to account. He passed from the Gymnasium at Gorlitz to the Kreuzschule at Dresden, where he studied the harpsichord and thorough-bass under Homilius. It was however the operas and sacred compositions of Hasse and Graun which exercised the most lasting influence upon him. Hasse's operas, of which he had the opportunity of hearing excellent performances, had a special attraction for him, and he copied the scores of several. In 1751 he went to the University of Leipsic, where, besides his legal studies, he devoted much attention to music, 'partly from choice, partly from necessity,' as he himself relates. He took part in the so-called 'Grosses Concert ' both as flutist and singer, and began to make his way as a composer and author. In 1754 he entered the household of Count Brühl, the Saxon minister, as tutor, and in this capacity accompanied his pupil to Leipsic in 1758. A hypochondriacal tendency, which overshadowed his whole life, caused him not only to resign this appointment, but also to refuse the offer of a Professorship at St. Petersburg. Henceforward he lived independently at Leipsic, engaged in literature and music, and actively employed in promoting the public concerts; and it is largely owing to his exertions that they afterwards reached so high a pitch of excellence. He was appointed director in 1763, and immediately took steps to improve the choruses. In 1771 he founded a school for the cultivation of singing, which he supported by giving performances of the oratorios of Handel, Graun, etc. As paid director of a society for the practice of music, he established 'Concerts Spirituels' (so called after the Paris concerts of that name), which took the place left vacant by the failure of the old 'Grosses Concert.' In 1781 this 'Concert-Institut' moved into the newly-built hall of the 'Gewandhaus,' and thus originated the 'Gewandhaus Concerts' of world-wide celebrity. Not content with this he composed for the then flourishing theatre at Leipsic, a series of 'Singepiele,' which are sufficient of themselves to perpetuate his name in the history of music. Though doubtless an adaptation of the French operetta, Hiller established the German 'Singspiel' as a separate branch of art. He took for his basis the simple 'Lied,' a form which brought it within the capacities of the company, who were by no means trained singers; but within these narrow limits he developed a variety of invention and expression, a delicacy and precision of character, which at once secured universal approval, and have sufficed to maintain this class of piece to the present day. He enlarged both the form and substance of the 'Lied' proper, by departing from the simple strophe, and giving to the songs a specific dramatic colouring in accordance with the character. He also introduced 'morceaux d'ensemble,' and traces are not wanting of the beginnings even of the dramatic 'scena.' Of these 'Singspiele' Hiller composed 14, each containing 30 numbers of this 'lied'-like character. The best known are 'Lisvart und Dariolette,' 'Lottchen am Hof,' 'Liebe auf dem Lande,' 'Dorfbarbier,' and especially 'Die Jagd,' which has kept the stage for more than a century, and is even still performed! He also wrote a quantity of sacred songs and 'Lieder,' which had their share in bringing to perfection this style of composition—so significant a contrast to the Italian 'aria.' Having been induced to accompany his pupils, the two Fräulein Podleska, to the court of the Duke of Courland at Mittau, Hiller made so favourable an impression, that on his departure he was appointed court-chapelmaster, with a salary. In 1786 his many services to the cause of music were recompensed by the appointment as Cantor and musical director to the Thomas schule in Leipsic. This post he held till 1801, and his death took place in 1804, after much trouble from the old hypochondria. As composer, conductor, teacher, and author, Hiller's industry was indefatigable. His instrumental compositions are now quite antiquated, but not so his vocal works. These consist chiefly of motets and the 'Singspiele' already named; but the following must not be omitted:—'Choralmelodien zu Gellerts geistlichen Oden und Liedern' (1761); 'Weisse's Lieder für Kinder' (1769); '50 geistliche Lieder für Kinder' (1774); and 'Vierstimmige Chor-arien' (1794). Of his larger works may be cited, a 'Passions-cantata,' and a 100th Psalm, both much prized by his contemporaries. Hiller also composed a 'Choralbuch' (1793), with two appendices (1794 and 1797), largely used in his day, though since widely condemned. It should be remembered that he lived in a time of general softness and relaxation, when all music took its tone from Italian opera. Hasse and Graun were the models of his taste, whom he revered all his life. But he was by no means insensible to the influence of the great renovation of music originated by Haydn and Mozart, and was powerfully impressed by Handel, while for Bach and Gluck he entertained a bare outward respect, with no real sympathy. He had deeply imbibed the spirit of that insipid and shallow age, which being entirely without feeling for historical propriety, permitted arbitrary changes in the treatment of older works, which to our day of historical enlightenment seem as astounding as they are impertinent. This is very remarkable in Hiller's careful editions of classical works. Thus he introduced many alterations of his own into a German edition of Handel's 'Jubilate,' under the title of the 100th Psalm; and arranged Pergolesi's two-part 'Stabat Mater' for a four-part choir. He also edited Hasse's 'Pilgrimme auf Golgatha,' Graun's 'Tod Jesu,' and Haydn's 'Stabat Mater' with German words, and in an abridged form for pianoforte. Still much praise is due to him for his frequent performances of oratorios, chiefly those of Handel. The 'Messiah' especially was given at Berlin, Breslau, Leipsic, and other places, with nearly ns much éclat as at the great festivals. As an author Hiller was painstaking and prolific. Besides several single articles in periodicals he edited weekly paper, 'Wöchentliche Nachrichten und Anmerkungen die Musik betreffend' (1766–1770). He had always given great attention to the cultivation of singing, and two instruction books of that kind—'Anweisung zum musikalisch-richtigen Gesange' (1774), and 'Anweisung zum musikalisch zierlichen Gesange' (1780), are among the moat valuable of his works. He also published a good method for violin. He edited 'Lebensbeschreibungen berühmter Musikgelehrten und Tonkünstler (1 vol. 1784), with his autobiography. Two of his collections also deserve mention—'Musikalische Zeitvertreib' (1760), of German and Italian airs, duell, etc., and 'Vierstimmige Motetten,' etc. (6 vols. 4to., 1776–91), containing motets by many celebrated composers—a work of real value. His grateful pupils, the sisters Podleska, erected in 1832 a small monument to his memory on the Promenade at Leipsic, before the windows of his official residence at the Thomas School, and close to Mendelssohn's Bach memorial.

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