Walter Arlen (1920–2023): Austrian-American Composer and Music Critic
Walter Arlen, originally named Walter Aptowitzer, was a distinguished Austrian-born American composer, renowned for his compositions centered around songs for voice and piano. He led a remarkable life that intertwined music, journalism, academia, and resilience against the backdrop of historical upheavals.
Born on July 31, 1920, in Vienna, Austria, into a middle-class Jewish family, Arlen exhibited an early aptitude for music. At the tender age of five, he displayed perfect pitch, capturing the attention of musicologist Otto Erich Deutsch, who recognized his potential and advised him to pursue piano lessons. However, the rise of the Nazi regime in Austria dramatically altered his life. The family’s department store was seized, his father sent to a concentration camp, and his mother endured immense emotional distress.
In 1939, after completing his schooling, Arlen fled Austria, ultimately finding refuge in the United States. Changing his name to Arlen, he settled in Chicago, initially working as a salesman. Battling depression, he turned to composing as a form of therapy and underwent formal training at the Chicago Conservatory and several other esteemed institutions.
Alongside his musical pursuits, Arlen embraced a career in journalism and became a music critic for the Los Angeles Times. He developed a deep understanding of the city’s musical scene, later founding the music department at Loyola University Chicago. Throughout his life, he fostered relationships with notable composers and played a crucial role in recovering the lost works of artists affected by Nazi oppression.
In his later years, after retiring from journalism, Arlen rekindled his passion for composition. He married Howard Myers in 2013, and in 2020, he was honored by the town of Bad Sauerbrunn on his centenary. Arlen’s life story was shared with the world in the 2023 Netflix documentary “Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate,” offering insights into his experiences during the Holocaust.
Walter Arlen passed away on September 2, 2023, in Los Angeles, leaving behind a legacy that resonates through his compositions and his resilience in the face of adversity. He lived to be 103 years old, leaving an indelible mark on the world of music and beyond.