American composer, journalist and teacher Walter Arlen was born Walter Aptowitzer in Vienna on 31 July 1920, into a Jewish family, and lived his long life in the shadow of the Holocaust. After Kristallnacht, his father was sent to a concentration camp and his mother committed suicide. Walter Arlen moved to Chicago, was encouraged to compose by Austrian musicologist Otto Erich Deutsch and studied at UCLA with Leo Sowerby and Roy Harris.
He founded the music department at Loyola University Chicago and became friends with many emigré musicians, including Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Carlos Chavez. He also investigated musicians and works lost due to the Nazi regime. As the music critic of the Los Angeles Times, he felt it inappropriate to promote himself as a composer, but when he retired, he began to write again.
Many of his works, predominantly songs, were discovered comparatively recently and some have been recorded on the Gramola label. He recorded for Decca, and his works have been performed by artists including Rebecca Nelson, Daniel Hope, Danny Driver, Christian Immler and the English Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ken Woods.
Walter Arlen was interviewed extensively for the 2023 Netflix documentary Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate. He died in Los Angeles on 2 September 2023, aged a-hundred-and-three.
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