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walter arlen

walter arlen was born walter aptowitzer in 1920 in vienna. his parents, mina, neé dichter, and michael aptowitzer, lived above the ‘warenhaus dichter’, which was founded and owned by leopold und regine dichter, mina’s parents.
in the early hours of the 13th march, just after hitler had invaded austria, sa-men (storm troopers) forced their way into the house, took jewellery, bank books, a valuable stamp collection and money, beat up walter and took his father to the prison in the karajangasse. after that, he was transferred to the concentration camp dachau, and eventually ended up in buchenwald. all close relatives, who had also been working in the ‘warenhaus dichter’, had escaped with the help of relatives living in chicago; and since his mother was in a sanatorium due to a bad nervous breakdown, the 18 year old walter was left alone with the task of trying to get money out of the frozen account – which was administrated by edward topolansky. they had to move out of the apartment in brunnengasse. walter, who had a visa for america, left vienna on the 14th march 1939 – only one day before his visa expired. when his father was released from buchenwald at the end of april, his parents and his sister edith fled to england.

under the name of arlen, walter started his career as a composer, music critic and university professor in chicago. while working in a furrier’s shop in chicago, he began to study music with the famous composer leo sowerby. in 1947, his parents and his sister finally arrived in chicago, and walter became assistant and amanuensis to the composer roy harris, with whom he stayed for four years. in march 1952, he started to write music criticism for the ‘los angeles times’, which he kept on doing until 1980. in 1969, he founded and was head of the music department at the loyola marymount university in los angeles. in 1998, he ended his academic career as a music critic at the age of 78. officially retired now, he works as a voluntary advisor for the josé iturbi foundation which provides young musicians with the opportunity of public performances.

his relationship with austria is marked by friendships with people like thomas klestil and peter moser, who later became the austrian ambassador in washington. walter arlen possesses both austrian and us citizenships. the 80-year-old spent new year’s eve 2000 in vienna, celebrating at the stephansplatz with his sister edith arlen-wachtel and his friend howard myers. he visited vienna again in 2007. he came to prepare the premiere of his compositions on march 12th 2008 in the jewish museum vienna, but also to sign a final renunciation of all claims for compensation at the national fund of the republic of austria. in the course of his stay in austria, we were able to meet him and engage his interest in our exhibition project.


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