Music of the Month: Richard Hillert: The Unpublished Organ Works

July 2, 2024 Nathan Grime

Eight recently discovered organ works of distinguished composer, teacher, and parish musician Dr. Richard Hillert (1923-2010) are being newly released in Richard Hillert: The Unpublished Organ Works. These settings have never been published before and are all settings of commonly used hymn tunes. They should be a welcome addition to the church organist’s repertoire, especially for those who have studied with Hillert; for those who have played, sung, and admired his work; and for those in the future who have yet to encounter the music of this remarkable man.

Who Was Richard Hillert?

Richard Hillert (1923-2010) was a luminary in twentieth-century Lutheran church music. After receiving his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in music, he served as a parish musician and teacher from 1951 to 1969 and was professor of music at Concordia University Chicago from 1959 to 1993.

Hillert is perhaps best known for his canticle “Worthy Is Christ,” which contains the beloved antiphon “This Is the Feast.” Written for the hymnals Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982), the canticle is now part of Divine Service, Setting One in Lutheran Service Book (2006).

While Lutheran churchgoers are most immediately familiar with Hillert’s musical setting of the Divine Service, he also composed symphonic and chamber works, instrumental music, and other music for liturgical use. The Unpublished Organ Works presents eight of Hillert’s organ preludes that until now had been relegated to the church music archives for academic study.


The Center for Church Music

The Unpublished Organ Works comes from the Center for Church Music at Concordia University Chicago. The preface to The Unpublished Organ Works contains the following introduction from editors Steven Wente and Dennis Zimmer:

The Center for Church Music at Concordia University Chicago houses the extensive collection of the works of Richard Hillert. This includes sketches, original manuscripts, revisions, published music, and related correspondence. In working through this collection, we have come across many unpublished compositions that have had very little exposure due to a variety of reasons. For example, a number of works were written for a specific occasion only to be filed away and rarely seen again.

The Center for Church Music was dedicated at Concordia Chicago in 2010, a few months after Hillert’s death. Hillert’s manuscripts and compositions were an inaugural gift to help establish the Center, and they remain in the Klinck Memorial Library on campus today.


Another significant collection the Center houses is the Carl Schalk American Lutheran Hymnal Collection, an aggregation of more than 530 volumes that date back to the late eighteenth century. The Center hosts an annual Lectures in Church Music series.

The (Un)published Contents

The eight preludes in The Unpublished Organ Works feature well-known hymn tunes and come with editorial suggestions for registration. Many of these preludes are written for the manuals only, while others contain a pedal line. At the bottom of each prelude’s page, the player will find the year Hillert composed the piece as well as additional information about Hillert’s original manuscripts.


Curious musicians can find scans of some of Hillert’s handwritten manuscripts of some of these settings on Concordia Chicago’s Center for Church Music website. Hillert’s musical handwriting is tidy and elegant, and it offers an intimate look into the compositional process of a giant in the Lutheran music legacy.

Bring the beauty of Richard Hillert’s organ works to your weekly service by ordering the collection below. 

Order The Unpublished Organ Works

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