Anton Heiller (15 September 1923 — 25 March 1979) was an Austrian organist, harpsichordist, composer, and conductor.
Born in Vienna, he was first trained in church music by Wilhelm Mück, organist of Vienna's Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral). He then combined work as répétiteur and choirmaster at the Vienna Volksoper with further study at the Vienna Academy of Music under Bruno Seidlhofer (piano, organ, harpsichord) and Friedrich Reidinger (music theory and composition) while serving in the military service, mostly as a medical aide. In 1945, he both graduated from the Academy and was appointed organ teacher there. He was promoted to professor in 1957.
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 toured both Europe and the United States, where his organ recitals at Harvard University (on the then new C.B. Fisk instrument in Memorial Church) — still available on a 4-CD boxed set compact discs — were particularly appreciated. A few years before the first of them, he had released a set of recordings for Vanguard of many of Bach's larger organ works on a majestic Marcussen instrument in Sweden. His two Haydn Society LPs, from the early 1950s, of Joseph Haydn's Symphonies 26 ("Lamentation") and 36; and Symphonies 52 and 56, are distinguished for their forthright conciseness and straightforwardness, without gratuitous ritardandi or other tempo changes not requested by Haydn in the score.
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 he declined in order to concentrate on keyboard playing, although near the end of his life he said he was looking forward to conducting more.
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 works he performed he displayed formidable technique, immense rhythmic strength and, in particular, a rare talent for clarifying and maintaining the momentum of the most complex polyphonic passages with what sounded like effortless ease.
He also composed from his teens onward. His works, influenced by Hindemith and Frank Martin, were often dodecaphonic, and never achieved anything like the acclaim of his performances, but he was prolific and composed much music for his own instrument, including an organ concerto (1963) and what may be the only concerto ever written for organ and harpsichord (1972).
He died unexpectedly and prematurely in Vienna at 55, collapsing after choking on food, from what was thought to be a cardiac event.
His notable pupils include Monique Gendron, Judy Glass, Yuko Hayashi, Grant Hellmers, Monika Henking, Wolfgang Karius, Jan Kleinbussink, Bernard Lagacé, Brett Leighton, Peter Planyavsky, Michael Radulescu, Christa Rakich, Paula Pugh Romanaux, Christa Rumsey, David Rumsey, David Sanger, Bruce Stevens, Sibyl Urbancic, and Jean-Claude Zehnder.
- Anton Heiller. Alle Register eines Lebens, Klosterneuburg: Edition VAbENE & Vienna: Doblinger, 2009).
- Anton Heiller: Organist, Composer, Conductor; Peter Planyavsky, translated by Christa Rumsey; scheduled to be published 01 Nov 2014; ISBN 9781580464970; 366 pages; University of Rochester Press