“ Interestingly, the work that tried to please the least was the most compelling. Hayes Biggs’ piece Ave Formosissima harkens back to the dance-mad, melismatic and slightly raucous music of the Middle Ages. But the score, with its zig-zagging lines and pungent dissonances, is genuinely contemporary.”—New York Times
“ A Consuming Fire, a short, zesty trio by Hayes Biggs, led off the evening. The piece is framed by some engagingly angular rhythmic writing, with a lyrical nougat at the center.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“ [The] most convincing and coherent performance [was] Hayes Biggs’ homage to his composer/pianist colleague Eric Moe, E.M. am Flügel, a short piece with romantic gestures and echoes of Berg and Stravinsky.”—Aufbau
“ The Mass for All Saints would be an exciting challenge for those choirs skilled in precise intonation and rhythmic agility. Biggs writes with knowledge of and respect for the expressive capabilities of the human voice.”—Choral Journal
“ Hayes Biggs’s wedding motet Tota Pulchra Es, here being sung for the first time, impressed by its quiet solemnity and neat working of its expressive opening motif: not empty fanfares but a reminder of the seriousness and privacy of love.”—New York Times
“ Mass for All Saints by composer Hayes Biggs releases shadows transformed into tendrils of light by the arabesque of the vocal line. Contrapuntal procedures are used to their utmost expressive effect. [It] is a work of a melodist of talent in the manner of Puccini, or better yet, Respighi.”—La Liberté
“ The Biggs song, Northeast Reservation Lines, is a real party piece... the sneakiness of the changes, the liveliness of the music and the verve of the performance worked handily... a potential recital hit in the vein of Bernstein’s I Hate Music cycle.”—The Village Voice
“ All the works tried a return to tonality typical of the decade; the most successful made the return oblique and ambiguous. Hayes Biggs’ O Sacrum Convivium took off from the motet of Tallis, yet it handsomely reconfigured early modes in a modernistic scheme of free tonality.”—New York Times
“ Hayes Biggs’ To Becalme His Fever... is a vivid evocation of anxiety, fits and repose. The language embraces pointillistic colors, romantic lines and prickly episodes when the demons hover. Biggs claims a forceful and subtle dramatic hand, along with a keen command of instrumental resources.”—The Plain Dealer
Some weeks ago, on January 20, 2023 at St. Malachy’s Church in Manhattan, I attended a lovely memorial service for Dr. Walter Hilse, who passed away peacefully in his sleep on December 31, 2022. Many of his friends, colleagues, and former pupils were present to bid him farewell. A brilliant organist, pianist, and composer, a sensitive accompanist, a kind and generous teacher, and a scholar of the works of Paul Hindemith and the Baroque composer Christoph Bernhard, Walter was a consummate musician and a true gentleman.
He received his degrees at Columbia University, including — besides those in music — one in mathematics. His teachers included such luminaries as Nadia Boulanger, Maurice Duruflé, Vincent Persichetti, and Bronson Ragan.
He performed solo recitals in the United States, Europe, and Asia, including critically acclaimed performances at Alice Tully Hall, and was particularly known for his authoritative performances of J. S. Bach’s The Art of the Fugue.
Besides his distinguished work as a soloist and a church and synagogue musician, Walter collaborated with many vocal and instrumental soloists as well as many of New York’s finest choral ensembles, including the New York Virtuoso Singers, Sine Nomine, and the Florilegium Chamber Choir. During the 1990s and early 2000s I sang many concerts with Florilegium, at that time conducted by JoAnn Rice, and Walter was at the keyboard for most of them. I was commissioned by JoAnn to compose Ochila laEil (1999), a setting of a Rosh Hashanah text in Hebrew for chorus, horn and organ. Walter and I met to work out the registration; his expertise was invaluable not only in coming up with appropriate stops specific to the organ on which the piece was to be premiered, but also with more general indications to put in the score that would be applicable to a greater variety of instruments. For this reason I was grateful to be able to give him credit for editing the organ part.
During my time as Associate Editor at C. F. Peters one of my assignments was the creation of a figured bass realization for a setting by Henry Purcell of the Anglican canticle Cantate Domino. Walter agreed to help me with it, and his extensive experience as a continuo player not only helped with this project but gave me insight into his approach to this particular discipline.
I also was fortunate to be able to take a few private lessons in counterpoint and fugue with Walter (and wish I could have taken many more!). Whether it was a formal lesson or a conversation, I always learned something new about music from talking to Walter.
I hadn’t seen him as frequently after the onset of the pandemic, but I’m particularly grateful that in October of 2015 I had the privilege of having him program two of my Three Hymn Tune Preludes (“Be Thou My Vision,” based on the Irish tune Slane and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” on John Bacchus Dykes’s tune Melita) on his annual recital at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan. He did a splendid job on them both, playing with the kind of sympathy and understanding that a great performer who also is a an accomplished and sensitive composer can bring to the performance of a new work; I’m so grateful to have his recordings from that concert on SoundCloud.
There are fewer and fewer musicians among us who are possessed of the sheer breadth and depth of knowledge about such an enormous variety of musical literature, and we are the poorer for it. Still, those of us who were blessed enough to know him can be grateful, and can carry with us and share all that we learned from him.
Rest well, Walter, and thanks. We shall not see your like again.