Heino Eller was born in the Estonian Tartu in the time that Estonia was still part of the Russia Empire. He completed his schooling in 1907 in Tartu. He had then been starting from the age of twelve violin lessons and he had already played in a number of amateur groups. In the years 1907 and 1908 he studied violin at the Conservatory of St. Petersburg. He had to break off his studies due to overtraining . Between 1908 and 1911 he studied law at the University of St. Petersburg, but in 1913 he succeeded his vocation and he returned to the Conservatory, where he now composition and studied music theory . In 1915 he interrupted the study for its service during the first world war. He played at that time in a military Orchestra. He returned to the Conservatory In 1919 and in 1920 he graduated. One of his teachers was Maximilian Steinberg.
Eller went back to Estonia, which gained independence in 1918. Between 1920 and 1940 he taught composition and music theory at the Higher music school in Tartu. The style of his compositions and those of his students, of whom the best known was Eduard Tubin , was called the ' Tartuse School ' mentioned, as a counterpart to the ' Tallinnse School ', led by Artur Kapp.
In 1940 Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union . In that year, Eller President of the Executive Committee of the Union of composers of the Estonian Soviet Republic. He moved to Tallinn, where he from 1940 until his death in 1970 he taught at the local Conservatory. One of his students from this period was Arvo Pärt. Eller was decorated many times during this period. In 1965, he was awarded the Lenin order and the honorary title of people's artist of the USSR in 1967.
Eller died in 1970 in Tallinn, where he is buried. He was married to the pianist Anna Kremer, who in a German concentration camp in 1942 was killed.
The higher music school in Tartu, where Eller taught between 1920 and 1940, Heino Eller music school since 1971 is called (' Heino ' Elleri nimeline Tartu Muusikakool). In 1998, the Estonian theatre and music museum in the Heino Eller Music Prize, which is awarded each year on the birthday of Eller. In Tallinn there is a bust of the composer, made by the sculptor Aime Kuulbusch.
Eller wrote primarily instrumental music. He started in neo-romantic style under the influence of especially Edvard Grieg, Jean Sibelius and Alexander Scriabin. Later he underwent the influences of Impressionism,Expressionism and – as almost every Estonian composer – the Estonian folk music.
His best known works are probably the symphonic poems Koit (' Dawn ', 1917) and Videvik (' Twilight ', 1918). His most played piano piece is Kellad (' Clocks ', 1929), inspired by the bells in St Paul's Church in Tartu.
Its pupil characterised the work of Arvo Pärt Eller as follows:
- Heino Ellers oeuvre is characterized by strict logic, a carefully guarded sense of style that is at once subtle and masterly orchestration, a and a remarkable own style of composing. These qualities give him right to a place beside the great northern composers. 
- Three symphonies (1936, 1947, 1961).
- Violin Concerto (1937).
- Elegy for strings and harp (1931).
- Five pieces for String Orchestra (1953).
- Symphonic poems Episood revolutsiooniajast (' Episode from the time of the revolution ', 1917), Koit (' Dawn ', 1917), Videvik (' Twilight ', 1918), Viirastused (' Ghosts ', 1924), Varjus Yes päikesepaistel (' In the shade and in the Sun ', 1926), Neenia (' close ' Grave, 1928).
- Symphonic Burlesque (1928).
- Dance suite (1944).
- Lyric Suite (1945).
- Five string quartets.
- Four piano sonatas.
- Two violin sonatas.
- Approx. 180 pieces for piano.
Notable alumni of Heino Eller are:
- Els Aarne
- Villem Kapp
- Boris Parsadanian
- Arvo Pärt
- Alo Põldmäe
- Jaan Rääts
- Kaljo Raid
- Lepo Asan
- Eduard Tubin
- Herbert Glossner, text in the booklet accompanying the cd Neenia, ECM, 2001 (ECM 1745).
- Robert Layton, text in the booklet accompanying the cd Music from Estonia, Volume I, Chandos, 1987 (CHAN 8525).