Heller, Stephen, celebrated Hungarian pianist and composer; b. Pest, May 15, 1813; d. Paris, Jan. 14, 1888. He was of a Jewish family, but was converted to Christianity as a youth. He studied piano with Franz Brauer and showed such extraordinary ability that he was sent to Vienna to continue his studies; he studied briefly with Czerny before taking lessons with Anton Halm. In 1828 he began a tour through Hungary, Transylvania, Poland, and Germany. However, the exertion of travel proved too much for him; while in Augsburg in 1830, he became ill, and decided to remain there for a time; financial means were provided by a wealthy family. In 1838 he went to Paris, where he became friendly with Berlioz, Chopin, and Liszt. Soon he became very successful as a pianist; some critics even judged him as superior to Chopin. He began to compose piano pieces somewhat akin to Schumann’s: brilliant salon dances, studies, and character pieces that became exceedingly popular. In 1849 he visited London, where his concerts charmed a large circle of music-lovers. A nervous ailment forced him to curtail his appearances; in 1862 he revisited England and played with Halle at London’s Crystal Palace. He then returned to Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life. He wrote in all several hundred piano pieces, arranged in groups in 158 opus numbers. Among the most notable were 4 sonatas (1829, 1844, 1856, 1878), Spaziergänge eines Einsamen (1851), Blumen-, Frucht- und Dornenstücke (1853), Präludien (1853), Im Walde (3 vols., 1854, 1871,1873), Ein Heft Walzer (1878), and 3 sonatinas (1878, 1878,1879). He also wrote various mazurkas, caprices, nocturnes, variations, and other pieces.
H. Barbedette, S. H. (Paris, 1876; Eng. tr., 1877); R. Schutz, S. H. (Leipzig, 1911); R. Booth, The Life and Music ofS. H. (diss., Univ. of Iowa, 1969); J.-J. Eigeldinger, ed., S. H.: Lettres d’un musicien romantique à Paris (Paris, 1981).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire