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Ferdinand Hiller

Biography

Born: October 24, 1811   Died: May 11, 1885; Cologne, Germany  
Ferdinand Hiller was one of the leading German pianists of the generation of Franz Liszt. (In fact, he was born two days after Liszt and died only about a year before.) He was a productive composer, though his best work is in shorter forms. His father was a wealthy Jewish merchant of Frankfurt who sent him to study music when he showed unusual interest. His main piano teacher was Alois Schmitt. Hiller made his concert debut at the age of ten. A Read more number of leading musicians, including Spohr and Mendelssohn, took an interest in helping develop his career. It was on Mendelssohn's recommendation that he went to Weimar to become a pupil of Hummel, who took him along on a trip to Beethoven's deathbed. On one of these visits, Hiller snipped a lock of hair from the great composer, the rediscovery of which is recounted in the book Beethoven's Hair.

Hiller arrived in Paris in 1828, staying seven years and supporting himself as an organist, pianist, and teacher. He also promoted the most "advanced" composers of the time, such as Berlioz, Liszt, and Chopin. He conducted the Leipzig Gewandhaus and also conducted in Dresden and Düsseldorf. In 1850, he became city concertmaster of Cologne and stayed in that position until illness forced his retirement in 1884. During his tenure there, he reorganized the music school and made it one of the finest institutions in Germany. Hiller also excelled at organizing concert series, festivals, and competitions and at writing about contemporary music. Before his death, he was made a nobleman and added an aristocratic "von" to his name.

He composed an opera, Romilda, which was played in Milan without success, and other large-form works, but is best represented by his piano works. Robert Schumann, in his capacity as music teacher, remarked favorably on his mastery of formal techniques of music composition, but that his music as a whole "lacked that triumphant power which we are unable to resist." Read less

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