The 102-year-old man who goes by the name of Walter Arlen is something of a fairy, even a little mischievous. The composer lives with his 65-year-old husband in a house near the ocean in Santa Monica, California. However, he was born in 1920 in Austria as Walter Abtwitzer. He grew up in pre-war Vienna, the cradle of international music and high culture.
“As far as I’m concerned, I grew up in an atmosphere of great joy,” says Arlen, whose grandfather founded Warrenhaus-Dixer, a large department store in 1890. His grandfather believed music should be kept in the store, so there was always music playing. He was also the first in Vienna to install loudspeakers throughout the store. “
His grandfather paid a young woman to sit by the gramophone all day and trade records. You hear the same music on every floor. Aptowitzers lived in an apartment above the store, and by the age of five he was young Walter memorized all the song lyrics. His aunt stuck the child up against the store counter and asked him to sing.
His mother played the piano, his uncle played the fiddle, and he was eight when his parents took him to his first opera. Toscaby Puccini.
“It overwhelmed me,” he says. “That was the beginning of my desire to become a composer.”
The budding musician took piano lessons and sang at school. One day his teacher had him dressed as Franz Schubert for a composer’s celebration in his classroom. He was admired for his talent and encouraged to write music. It was a happy childhood — “until Hitler came and that changed overnight,” he says. It was an occupation.”
Aptoitzer was 17 years old. His father was imprisoned by the Nazis and his mother was placed in a mental hospital. The boy responded by writing a melancholy song based on the poem titled “Es geht wohl anders”.The title, in English, translates to things turn out differently.
Aptowitzer escaped Austria and moved in with relatives in Chicago. Many others in his family were not so lucky. His grandmother died in the Treblinka concentration camp and his father was taken to Dachau. His mother later died by suicide. In Chicago, Aptowitzer changed his name to his Walter Arlen. (He is not related to “Over the Rainbow” composer Harold Arlen.) Arlen staves off depression by writing music. He won the Song Cycle Contest and became an assistant to American composer Roy Harris.
Arlen continued his music studies at UCLA, worked as a chauffeur for Igor Stravinsky, and was eventually hired as a classical music critic. los angeles times. Me Also write for LA Times, However, I had never heard of Arlen until I was introduced to the music historian Michael Haas, who arranged to record Arlen’s works with many other Jewish composers. For decades, Arlen’s music was kept in a desk drawer.
Among his most recently recorded works is the oratorio “The Song of Songs,” composed by Arlen in the early 1950s and based on ancient Jewish love poems.
“Music that could only have been composed by a Viennese composer who was uprooted in America and trying to solve all his problems,” says Haas, who wrote the book. forbidden music About Jewish composers banned by Hitler.
Most of Arlen’s music was written after Shoah, but Haas says it belongs in this unique and uniquely traumatic place and time. These horrors he had to witness and live, and the stories he has to tell about trying to get out of Austria, and what happened to him and his family, the only way he could deal It was about writing music and shoving it in a desk drawer,” Haas says.
In 2006 Haas co-founded the Exilarte Center for Banned Music in Vienna, which seeks out, preserves and presents music lost during the Holocaust. The impetus began when Haas, his producer of Grammy-winning classical music at Decca Records, recorded Kurt Weill’s music.
“I kept coming across names of other composers as famous as Kurt Weill,” says Haas. He cites Jewish composers who fled Hitler’s Europe and found success in Hollywood.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold, for example, was a classic genius who escaped from Austria in the 1930s and rose to fame. sea hawkBut Haas began to discover a whole hidden world of composers who died or defected during the Holocaust. They either gave up on music or, like Walter Arlen, wrote music that no one had ever heard.
“The more I recorded, the more I suddenly realized that the music had been deliberately suppressed to some extent after the war, not because the composer was Jewish, but because the music did not represent the kind of Jewish people. Postwar anti-fascist statements felt by society were important in reeducating the masses after the war.”
He points to the music of the late Robert Fürstenthal — he also left Vienna at 17, but his compositions in his desk drawer are a reminder of his childhood glory in Austria. It sounded like an eternity like the days of
“He was the U.S. Navy auditor in San Diego,” says Haas. “I can only imagine a different place than Vienna. I asked, ‘Robert, why did you write in the style of Hugo Wolff in the 1980s, 1990s, early 2000s? And he said: “When I compose, I will return to Vienna.”
Music forensic scientists at the Exilarte Center have rescued hundreds of works by these composers. They have also tracked over 30 sites and legacies around the world.
Wise Music Group President Robert Thompson calls the Exilarte team “monument men” of composers and manuscripts. “But I realized what was missing was getting this music out there and being able to play it,” says Thompson. “We spent months talking to them about how this would work and how it would help us as a publisher to spread all this music.”
Wise Music Group, which owns the historic publisher G. Schirmer, partnered with Exilarte last year to help bring this forgotten and banished music back to life in public concerts. Publishing royalties go to the Exilarte project and composer royalties go to the family and estate. Alternatively, this is the case of Walter Arlen, who will be 103 years old in July, the composer himself.
“I think he’s our newest and oldest living composer,” says Thompson.
Over the decades, Arlen composed about 65 works, many of them vocal. It is the music trapped in the amber of his memory, the Viennese music he loved dearly and was forced to leave. Professionally, Arlen has established himself as a critic. So how did he review his work?
“If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have written it,” he says.
If he hadn’t lived, we wouldn’t have heard it.