Composer and writer on music. He studied keyboard, counterpoint, and continuo at the Dresden Kreuzschule with G. A. Homilius (from 1746), and quickly became active in that city's musical life. In 1751 he matriculated at the University of Leipzig, where he studied law, languages, and philosophy. In 1754 he became Hofmeister to Count Brühl in Dresden; but in 1758 he traveled back to Leipzig with the count. Leipzig's principal orchestral society, the Grosses Konzert, was reopened at the end of the Seven Years' War (1763), with Hiller as director; during the next eight years he brought its concerts to a standard of almost unmatched variety and technical excellence. He also edited the periodical Wöchentliche Nachrichten (1766-70), which remains a vital source of information on German musical life of the period.
With the poet Christian Felix Weisse, Hiller established the first full-blown German singspiel; their first collaboration, Die verwandelten Weiber oder Der Teufel ist los (Leipzig, 1766), contained songs by Standfuss and Hiller. Other successes followed: Lisuart and Dariolette (1766), Die Jagd (1770), Der Dorfbalbier (1771), Der Aerndtekranz (1771), and Das Grab des Mufti (1779). He also composed sacred vocal works and secular cantatas; published song collections; and authored a number of central musical treatises, including Anweisung zum musikalisch-zierlichen Gesange (Leipzig, 1780), Lebensbeschreibungen berühmter Musikgelehrten and Tonkünstler 1 (Leipzig, 1784) [includes Hiller's autobiography, Ober Metastasio und seine Werke, Leipzig, 1786].