Walter Arlen: A Remarkable Life in Music and Memory.
Walter Arlen, formerly known as Walter Aptowitzer, was a celebrated Austrian-born American composer, music critic, and professor. Born on July 31, 1920, in Vienna, Austria, Arlen’s life journey was marked by his passion for music, resilience in the face of adversity, and his unwavering commitment to preserving the legacy of artists silenced by the horrors of the Nazi regime. He passed away on September 2, 2023, at the age of 103, leaving behind a rich tapestry of music and memories.
Early Life and Challenges
Walter Arlen was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Vienna. His parents operated a department store until the dark cloud of Nazism descended upon Austria. In 1938, during the infamous Kristallnacht, their store was expropriated by the Nazis. His father was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, and tragically, his mother took her own life following a breakdown. Arlen’s life took a dramatic turn as he sought refuge in the United States, settling in Chicago.
A Chance Encounter with Destiny
In Chicago, Walter Arlen’s life intersected with the world of music in a fateful encounter with musicologist Otto Erich Deutsch. Recognizing Arlen’s promising talent, Deutsch encouraged him to compose. This marked the beginning of Arlen’s illustrious musical career. His compositions, totaling around 65 works, predominantly focused on voice and piano scores, a testament to his deep love for these musical forms.
A Journey of Education and Rediscovery
Arlen pursued formal music education at the University of California, Los Angeles, studying under the guidance of distinguished composers Leo Sowerby and Roy Harris. During this time, he became a tireless advocate for forgotten and lost works of art from the Nazi era. His efforts in tracking down other artists whose creations were stifled by the Nazi regime were truly remarkable.
A Man of Many Talents
Walter Arlen was not only a composer but also a prolific journalist. He became a music critic for the Los Angeles Times, sharing his insights and passion for music with a broader audience. Additionally, he played a pivotal role in establishing the music department at Loyola University Chicago, leaving an indelible mark on the institution.
A Life of Friendship and Love
Throughout his life, Arlen fostered deep friendships with fellow emigrées, including renowned composers such as Stravinsky, Milhaud, Villa-Lobos, and Chavez. These relationships enriched his musical journey and left an enduring impact on the world of music.
On July 2, 2013, Walter Arlen celebrated his love for his partner, Howard Myers, with a marriage ceremony in West Hollywood. This union was a testament to the enduring power of love and companionship.
A Legacy of Remembrance
In 2020, Arlen received the honorary citizenship of Bad Sauerbrunn, a poignant acknowledgment of his dedication to preserving the memory of those affected by the Holocaust.
Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate
In the year 2023, Arlen shared his poignant recollections and experiences in the Netflix documentary Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate. In this interview, he spoke of his first love as a teenager, Fülöp “Lumpi” Loránt, a Hungarian Jew and family friend who tragically fell victim to the Holocaust. Arlen’s words served as a haunting reminder of the atrocities committed during that dark period of history.
Walter Arlen’s journey through life was a testament to the enduring power of music, love, and resilience. His legacy lives on through his compositions, his writings, and his unwavering commitment to ensuring that the voices of silenced artists are heard. As we remember him, we also honor the countless others whose stories and talents were lost to the shadows of history.