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Johann Adam Hiller (Composer, Thomaskantor)

Born: December 25, 1728 - Wendlich-Ossig, near Görlitz, Saxony, Germany
Died: June 16, 1804 - Leipzig, Germany

The German composer and conductor, Johann Adam Hiller [real name: Huller], is regarded as the creator of the German Singspiel, a musical genre combining spoken dialogue and popular song.


Johann Adam Hiller was the son of a schoolmaster and parish clerk. 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 qnickly turned these talents to account. He passed in 1747 from the Gymnasium at Görlitz to the Kreuzschule at Dresden, where he studied the harpsichord and thorough-bass under Gottfried August 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 Leipzig, 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 flautist 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 Leipzig 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 Johann Adam Hiller lived independently at Leipzig, engaged in literature and music, and actively employed in promoting the revival of public concerts, temporarily given up during the war; and it is largely owing to his exertions that they afterwards reaohed so high a pitch of excellence. He was appointed director in 1763, when the concerts were called Liebhaber-concerte, and immediately took steps to improve the choruses. In 1771 he founded a school for the cultivation of singing, which he supported from 1775 by giving performances of the oratorios of Georg Frideric Handel, Graun, etc. As paid director of a society for the practice of music, he established Concerts Spirituels in 1776 (so called after the Parisian 'Concert Spirituel'), 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. In 1781 he also became musical director of two churches of the city. Not content with this, he composed from 1766 for the then flourishing theatre at Leipzig a series of Singspiele, music for middle-class comedies by C. F. Weisse and others, 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, the best known are Lisuart und Dariolette, Lottchen am Hofe, Liebe auf dem Lande, Dorfbarbier, and especially Die Jagd, which kept the stage for more than a century, and is even still performed.

Johann Adam Hiller 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, in 1782 Hiller made so favourable an impression, that on his departure in 1784, he was appointed hofcapellmeister, with a salary. He resigned his post at the Gewandhaus concerts in 1785, for the post at Mittau, but returned in 1786. He was director of music in Breslau in 1787-1789. In 1789, his many services to the cause of music were recompensed by the appointment as Kantor and musical director to the Thomasschule in Leipzig. He was at first appointed as deputy to Johann Friedrich Doles, and succeeded to the post after the latter's death in 1797. This post he held till 1801. He left in 1785 to become Kapellmeister to the Duke of Courland but returned in 1786. He was director of music in Breslau, 1787-9, and afterwards Kantor of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.

Hiller's son Friedrich Adam (c1767-1812) was a theatre musical director at Altona and later Königsberg; he composed stage works, songs and string quartets.


Johann Adam Hiller's 14 Singspiels, his most important works, promoted the revival of German song, which he combined with styles from Italian and French opera to give a wide range of characterization and expression. He also composed single songs, italianate secular cantatas, sacred music (including choral settings) and instrumental works. He wrote on many aspects of music, notably in his Wöchentliche Nachrichten (1766-1770), the first specialized musical periodical in the modern sense. His didactic works include several treatises on singing.

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 geislichen Oden und Liedem'(1761); Weisse Lieder für Klnder (1769); 50 geistlische Lieder für Kinder (1774); and Vierstimmige Chorarien (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.

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 G.F. Handel, while for J.S. 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 in 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 G.F. Handel's Jubilate under the title of the 100th Psalm: and arranged Giovanni Battista 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 pris due to him for his frequent performances of oratorios, chiefly those of G.F. Handel. The Messiah especially was given at Berlin, Breslau, Leipzig and other places, with nearly as much éclat as at the great English festivals.

As an author Hiller was painstaking and prolific. His first important book seems to have been Abhandlung von der Nachahmung der Natur in der Musik (1753). Besides several single articles in periodicals he edited a weekJy paper, Wöchentliche Nachrichten und Anmerkungen die Musik betreffend (1766-70). 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 zie:rlichen Gesange (1780), are among the most 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, duets, etc., and Vierstimmige Motetten, etc. (6 vols. 4to, 1776-91), contaiining motets by many celebrated composers - a work of real value. (For complete list of his works, both musical and literary, see Q.-L.) His grateful pupils, the sisters Podleska, erected in 1832 a small monument to his memory on the Promenade at Leipzig, before the windows of his official residence at the Thomasschule, and close to Mendelssohn's Bach memorial.

Source: Grove Concise Dictionary of Music (© 1994 by Oxford University Press); Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1952 Edition, by Herr A.Maczewsky)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (September 2005, February 2006)

Thomaskantors: Thomanerchor Leipzig | Gewandhausorchester Leipzig | General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2

Links to other Sites

HOASM: Johann Adam Hiller
Johann Hiller (Wikipedia)
Johann Adam Hiller (Encyclopædia Britannica)
Johann Adam Hiller (1911 Encyclopedia)

Johann Adam Hiller (Operone) [German]
Johann Adam Hiller [German]
Claudius Böhm (Hrsg.): Johann Adam Hiller - Kapellmeister und Kantor, Komponist und Kritiker [German]
Johann Adam Hiller (klassiekemuziekgids) [Dutch]
Hiller, Johann Adam (Leipzig Lexikon)



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