Anton Heiller (September 15, 1923 — March 25, 1979) was an Austrian organist, harpsichordist, composer, and conductor.

Heiller was born at Vienna. After undergoing his initial church music training with Wilhelm Mück — organist at the Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) — he combined work as répétiteur and choirmaster at the Vienna Volksoper, with further study at the Vienna Music Academy under Bruno Seidlhofer (piano, organ, harpsichord) and Friedrich Reidinger (music theory and composition). Meanwhile he carried out his military service, mostly as a medical aide. Graduating from the Academy in 1945, he became in the same year an organ teacher at that institution. From 1957 he held the title of professor.

Heiller’s career after World War II is an uninterrupted list of concerts, lectures, records, jury service at contests, and professional honors. In 1952 he won the International Organ Competition in Haarlem, The Netherlands, and he toured the United States as well as Europe, his organ recitals at Harvard (on the then-new C.B. Fisk instrument at Memorial Church) — available on a boxed 4-CD set compact discs — having been particularly appreciated. A few years before the first of them, he had released an astonishing set of recordings for Vanguard of many of the larger Bach pieces; the instrument was a majestic Marcussen in Sweden.

Successive Austrian governments bestowed on Heiller every artistic award in their power, including the Vienna Culture Prize (1963), the Vienna Cross of Honor for Arts and Science (1968), and the Grand Austrian State Prize (1969). Offered the conductorship of the Vienna State Opera, Heiller rejected the post, because he wanted to concentrate on his keyboard playing, although near the end of his life he said he was looking forward to more conducting.

Heiller recorded most of his large repertory, which ranged from Giovanni Gabrieli and Dieterich Buxtehude through Bach to Max Reger and Heiller’s good friend Paul Hindemith; Romantic works interested him much less than Baroque and 20th-century material. In whatever he performed, he displayed formidable technique: of immense rhythmic strength and, in particular, showing a rare talent for clarifying and maintaining the momentum of the most complex polyphonic passages, such that they gave listeners no hint of the difficulties to be overcome.

From his teens onward, Heiller also composed. His pieces, hermetic in style (albeit with nods to Hindemith and Frank Martin), and often enough exhibiting dodecaphony, never achieved anything like the same renown as his performances. Still, they are numerous, and include a good deal of music for his own instrument, including an organ concerto (1963) and what appears to be the only concerto ever written for organ and harpsichord (1972).

He died unexpectedly in Vienna, when only 55 years old: he collapsed, probably of a cardiac event, after choking on food.

His more notable pupils include Christa Rakich, Peter Planyavsky, Yuko Hayashi, Monika Henking, Monique Gendron, Bernard Lagacé, Wolfgang Karius, Jan Kleinbussink, Brett Leighton, Michael Radulescu, Judy Glass and David Sanger.

Edited by hjbardenhagen on 8 Dec 2012, 09:04

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