The composer and music critic Walter Arlen celebrated his 100th birthday on July 31. Born in Vienna, Arlen grew up in Ottakring until he was expelled by the Nazis in 1939. He now lives in Los Angeles.
Arlen studied under composer and conductor Lukas Foss in the USA, made a living as a music critic for the Los Angeles Times, taught music education at American universities, and composed. Among other works, he wrote pieces for piano and songs as well as a new soundtrack for the 1924 silent movie “The City without Jews“. His last work to date, “Wenn die letzte Blaue fährt”, from the year 2000, is an homage to a traditional Viennese song of the same name.
Walter Arlen was born Walter Aptowitzer into a Jewish bourgeois family on July 31, 1920 in Vienna Ottakring. His parents and grandparents ran the department store “Kaufhaus Dichter” on Brunnengasse. Rather than serving in the department store, Walter Arlen was drawn to music—he took piano lessons and wrote his first works while still a teenager. When the Nazis seized power in 1938, his musical career came to an abrupt halt. The family’s department store was “Aryanized”, the family was temporarily imprisoned and driven out. Arlen was able to flee to the USA—first to Chicago, then later to Los Angeles. As a displaced citizen of Vienna, he spent his first years in America fighting for his financial survival and was unable to focus on music until after the war.
Regular visits to Vienna
Arlen always remained connected to his hometown. In 2002, he and his sister Edith Wachtel visited Vienna as guests of the Jewish Welcome Service and he has returned to the city regularly ever since. He was awarded the Golden Decoration of Honor for Services to the Republic of Austria in 2008, the Gold Merit Badge of the State of Vienna in 2011, and the “Goldener Rathausmann” by the City of Vienna in 2015. In 2008, the Jewish Museum Vienna dedicated a special exhibition to him entitled “Wenn die letzte Blaue fährt”, his last composition to date. Walter Arlen left his compositions and correspondence with contemporaries (including the composer Jan Sibelius) as well as his family’s photo collection to the Vienna City Library in 2011. The mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig, congratulated the jubilarian, sending the traditional gift of honor for high-ranking jubilarians to his residence in Los Angeles by diplomatic courier.
- exilarte.org: 100th birthday of Walter Arlen, exil.arte Center congratulates!
- Die Presse: Ich hatte nur große Sehnsucht und Traurigkeit, (All I felt was great longing and sadness), November 19, 2012 – in German
- Walter Arlen in the ViennaWiki – in German
- Der Standard: Kritiker und Komponist Walter Arlen: Ein Wiener im kalifornischen Exil, (Critic and composer Walter Arlen: A Viennese in exile in California), July 26, 2020 – in German
- Radiokulturhaus Wien: Echo des Unerhörten: Walter Arlen, (Echo of the unheard: Walter Arlen), 2017 – in German