Born: May 15, 1813; Pest, Hungary
Died: January 14, 1888; Paris, France
Having lived a checkered existence in several countries, the music of Stephen Heller exhibits several different sets of nationalistic characteristics at different points in his career. His oeuvre consists entirely of works for the piano, two of which (composed jointly with H.W. Ernst) are for piano and violin, and one other of which is a set of six valses as piano duet.
Upon revealing musical talent as early as age five, Heller was givenRead more lessons on the pianoforte by Ferenc Brauer and in harmony by a local organist named Cibulka. At the age of nine, his father to send him from Pest to Vienna to study seriously with Czerny. Because this well-known pedagogue was too expensive, Heller was compelled to take lessons from Anton Halm, a teacher of other virtuosi who was able to introduce him to Schubert and Beethoven. In 1828, at the age of 14, Heller embarked upon a prolonged concert tour which, although it fortified his financial resources, took a toll on his health. He returned home two years later exhausted and suffered a nervous breakdown.
While recuperating, he made the acquaintance of a member of the Augsburg aristocracy, Frau Caroline Hoeslin von Eichthal, who retained him as musical tutor to her children. Heller was able to take up a serious study of composition, his first teacher being concert master Hippolyte Chelard at Augsburg. Even though only his piano works survive, it is said he composed a few songs and what were referred to as concerted pieces at this time. In 1836, Heller, through correspondence, made the acquaintance of Robert Schumann, who performed the valuable functions of encouraging him and assisting him in obtaining a publisher. Schumann also gave Heller the pseudonym "Jeanquirit," which he used for his criticisms in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.
Two years later, Heller went to Paris where he intended to continue his studies. Although he achieved some notice there, he was unlike the free-spirited and iconoclastic embers of the artistic community in that city. Recognized for his ability as a composer and arranger, he was able to earn a modest living writing piano fantasies on popular music of the day, doing piano arrangements of other works, and writing as a music critic. He completed a book, L'art de phraser, on writing for piano, and its success brought him a measure of financial security. He continued to produce etudes and other short piano works, but had lapsed into playing in public only rarely, generally entrusting his works to others. It is said he described other pianists as being of three kinds: a small group, including his close friend Charles Hallé, who played his music well; a larger group who played his works badly; and the largest group of all consisted of those who didn't play them at all.
In 1862 Heller emerged from his seclusion as a performer and in England, performed a series of concerts in which he and Hallé played works for two pianos. He returned to Paris and continued to work until his eyesight began to fail him in 1883. Hallé, Robert Browning, and Lord Leighton, in a combined effort, persuaded the English to subscribe sufficient funds to provide him with an annuity, which he enjoyed for the rest of his life.
Musically, Heller progressed from being outright German and Viennese to being securely and comfortably French. In his later years, he began to exhibit Czech characteristics and some of his latest works greatly resemble those of Janácek and even Dvorák. Because of the volume and presence of his work, he is thought to have had an influence on both Fauré and Chabrier. Read less