Hillert, Richard W.

Richard Walter Hillert , 1923-2010, was Distinguished Professor of Music Emeritus at Concordia University, River Forest, Illinois. His career as a teacher at Concordia spanned five decades, from 1959 to 1993. During this time he taught classes in music theory and composition, music literature, 20th century music, orchestration, organ and piano instruction, comparative arts and liturgical worship.

He served in various capacities in the music department, including as chair in 1964-65 and from 1986-89, as coordinator of the Master of Church Music program, and as associate editor of the journal Church Music (1966-80).

Richard Hillert was born in Clark County, Wisconsin, near the small town of Granton, on March 14, 1923. There he attended parochial and public schools and later enrolled at Concordia Teachers College (now Concordia University), River Forest, where he received the Bachelor of Science in Education. He served as teacher and music director for parishes in St. Louis, Missouri, Wausau, Wisconsin, and Chicago and Westchester, Illinois. He received both the Master of Music and Doctor of Music degrees in composition from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. He later attended Aaron Copland's Tanglewood, the Berkshire School of Music, where he studied composition with the Italian composer, Goffredo Petrassi.

It is for his work as composer and teacher of composition that Richard Hillert is best known. His compositions and publications include an array of pieces of liturgical music and hymns for congregation, choral motets and hymn anthems, psalm settings, organ and chamber works, concertatos and cantatas, including major settings of The Christmas Story According to St. Luke and The Passion According to St. John, and most recently The Seven Words from the Cross. He edited eleven volumes of the Concordia Hymn Prelude Series. He wrote liturgical pieces and hymns and settings and served as music editor for Worship Supplement (1969). He was a member of the Liturgical Music Committee of the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (1966-1978) and was the music editor of Lutheran Book of Worship (1978).

Among his most frequently performed liturgical works for congregation is Setting One of the Holy Communion, which appears in Lutheran Book of Worship and Lutheran Worship (1982) and the most recent Lutheran Service Book (2006). Worthy Is Christ, with its antiphon, "This Is the Feast of Victory," was written as an alternate Song of Praise for inclusion in Setting One. It is now widely published in at least 30 recent worship books, appearing along with his hymns in North American, Canadian, and international publications.

The list of original hymn tunes is extensive and many of them have involved direct collaboration with a number of distinguished hymn poets of the day. These include Jaroslav Vajda, Martin Franzmann, Fred Pratt Green, Henry Lettermann, Gracia Grindal, Herman G. Stuempfle, Jill Baumgaertner, Susan Cherwien, and Don Saliers.

Liturgical texts have been chosen primarily from the biblical psalms, the ordinary and proper readings from Old and New Testaments, and words from the historic liturgy of the Western church.  

Among other compositions are symphonic works such as Symphony in Three Movements, Variations for Orchestra, Suite for Strings, chamber works for small orchestra and ensembles including Alternations for Seven Instruments, two Divertimentos, as well as many works for keyboard, instrumental solos and songs. The latter include Sonata for Piano (1961), a violin sonata, and two sonatas for flute and keyboard. Major organ works include Prelude and Toccata, Ricercata, Passacaglia on Innocent Sounds, Partita on Picardy, Partita on Atkinson, and Fantasy on a Solemn Ostinato. There are also concert works with sacred texts, such as Five Canticles from the Exodus (1958), Te Deum for two pianos, percussion and wind instruments (1962), The Alleluiatic Sequence (1980), and Seven Psalms of Grace for baritone solo, choirs, and chamber orchestra (1998).

Extended choral works, many written for the choirs of Concordia University, conducted by Thomas Gieschen, include the cantata, May God Bestow on Us His Grace (1964), Motet for the Day of Pentecost for choir, vibraphone, and tape recorder (written for the round-the-world tour in 1969), Motet for the Time of Easter for double choir, percussion, and harp (1971), and Agnus Dei for three choirs and percussion.

Richard Hillert authored scholarly articles and reviews for periodicals such as Church Music, CrossAccent, Currents in Theology and Mission, and other professional books and journals.  His compositions have been recorded on more than 20 compact discs. He received an honorary Doctor of Sacred Music from Valparaiso University, and honorary Doctor of Letters from Concordia University, Seward, Nebraska, and from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He was an honorary lifetime member of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians. Many of his former students throughout the land have careers as practicing church musicians, as teachers in elementary, secondary, and higher education, as music editors and publishers, and as composers.

He and his wife, Gloria Bonnin Hillert, lived in Melrose Park, Illinois. Her career has been as a professor of anatomy and physiology at colleges in Springfield, Illinois, Winfield, Kansas, and in the Chicago area. Richard is survived by children Kathryn Brewer, Virginia, and Jonathan Hillert, and five grandchildren.

Choral music by Richard W. Hillert

Piano music by Richard W. Hillert

Instrumental music by Richard W. Hillert

Recordings by Richard W. Hillert

Richard W. Hillert's Biography "This is the Feast: Hillert at 80"