Ferdinand Hiller and Fryderyk Chopin

Ferdinand Hiller and Fryderyk Chopin


Ferdinand Hiller (1811–1885) and Fryderyk Chopin

Unknown artist, medallion, bronze, c.1835, diameter 100, reproduction: Ferdynand Hoesick, Chopin. Życie i twórczość (Warsaw, 1910–1911), ii, 13.

Original lost during World War II.

Collection: Photographic collection of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Warsaw [F.6960].


Ferdinand Hiller—German pianist, composer and conductor. After studying with Hummel in Weimar, he spent eight years (1828–1835) in Paris, where he became sincere friends with famous writers (Balzac, Hugo), artists (Delacroix) and many musicians (Liszt, Berlioz, Mendelssohn), above all with Chopin.

In a letter of 12 December 1831 to Tytus Woyciechowski, Chopin wrote of him with the utmost esteem: ‘[…] good honest Hiller, a boy with huge talent (an ex-pupil of Hummel, whose earlier concerto and symphony had a great effect—it is something in the Beethoven mould, but full of poetry, fire and human spirit)’ [Sydow, i, 201]. Hiller took part in Chopin’s first concert in Paris (26 February 1832). They became friends, and Chopin dedicated to Hiller his Nocturnes, Op. 15. Together with Liszt, Franchomme, Mendelssohn and Berlioz, they formed a sort of fellowship. Liszt wrote the following to Hiller on 15 February 1855: ‘Of our old romantic Parisian fraternity which, with Mendelssohn and Chopin, comprised five members, only we three, Berlioz and yourself, remain in this base world’ [Eigeldinger 1986, p. 270]. In 1835, Hiller left Paris and returned to Germany. In his writings, he recalls his friend Chopin with great fondness: ‘I could say that Chopin loved me, but I was in love with him. At least, I do not know how else to call the feeling he inspired in me. His presence made me happy, and I could never hear him to the point of satiety; if I had not seen him for a longer time, I missed him; in the morning I left my apartment swiftly, in order to see him before he began his lessons. […] He could not live without society and was seldom alone. In the morning he would spend an hour or so at the instrument, and even when he was practising or when he sat for a whole evening at his favourite piano, he had to have one of his friends by his side. […] I have to speak of his wonderful playing, which I shall not forget till my last breath. He rarely gave himself up to something entirely, and only at the piano did he do so most fully, to a greater degree than any other pianist. He expressed only himself, and so exclusively that all remembrance of anything previously heard fell away. No one ever touched the keys in such a way, no one ever produced from them, in such a countless array of shades, the same sounds. He combined rhythmic precision with a freedom of leading the melody in such a way that it seemed to arise at that very instant. That which was refined decoration in others, in him was like the tint of a flower; what was technical fluency in others, in him resembled the flight of a swallow. It was out of the question to consider the individual virtues of his playing, such as innovation, charm, perfection or inspiration—it was simply just Chopin. Even the lack of that imposing power of tone that characterised Liszt, Thalberg and others, was one of his charms. […] The most profound understanding of his compositions, the most complete immersion in them, still does not give one a sense of the poetry contained in his playing. All thought of corporeality evaporated. It was like the flash of a wondrous meteor, which captivates us with its mysterious unfathomability’ [Czartkowski and Jeżewska, pp. 244–246].