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Tribute to Walter Arlen

Memorial for Walter Arlen at the Thomas Mann House

A Memorial for composer and music critic Walter Arlen was held on September 17 at the Thomas Mann House in Pacific Palisades. Born in Vienna, he was forced into Exile and had lived in the United States since 1938. In Los Angeles, he was an integral part of the Exile community that gathered at Villa Aurora and the Thomas Mann House. Walter Arlen died in Los Angeles on September 2, 2023 aged 103 and is survived by his husband Howard Myers.

Dr. Markus Klimmer, Chairman of the Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann House Board of Directors, offered the following tribute pledging the organizations resolve to preserve the legacy of Walter’s work as a composer:


Dear Howard, dear Friends of Walter,

I met Walter late in life. And I did not have a chance to get to know him well personally. But it feels as if I did. As an ardent fan of classical music, I knew Walter through his professional work. As an Austrian living in Germany, parts of my family had emigrated to Los Angeles. I came to LA as a student. I learnt a lot through Walter’s articles, and I kept thinking „why don’t we have these kind of critics like Walter or his colleagues from the New York Times back in Germany and Austria?“ Little did I know that actually we had these kind of critics. People like Walter, deeply immersed in music, and with a deep understanding of the subject they were writing on. With an ability to convey music to a broader public, arousing interest and curiosity among the readers. Yes, these critics existed back in Europe, especially in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and in the Vienna between the wars. Eduard Hanslick and Julius Korngold were the most prominent of them. Even today it is fascinating to read them. Walter Arlen for me clearly is a natural successor to Hanslick and Korngold, he is in the same league. But I had to come to the US to learn about this fundamentally Austro-German approach. The fascists not only forced Walter into exile, they made this whole tradition of well versed, deeply educated critics extinct. Back in Europe we still have a vibrant press landscape, but we mainly have reporters of classical music events. Few of them share Walter’s aspirations, even fewer share his sheer knowledge and his humility – it was never about him, always about music and the artists.

So when I think of Walter, for me he was like a living link into a lost world, into a lost tradition of critics that served but also shaped music.

When I got to know Walter late in life, for me it seemed I had known him well and long. I had read all about his family, his interviews in the Austrian press, or listened to his hour-long, deeply moving recollection of his life in pre-war Vienna on Austrian Radio. When I was a child in the 1970s, I knew „Kaufhaus Osei“, or „Osei Departmentstore“, but had no clue that this used to be Warenhaus Dichter. It was a huge department store in a working-class part of Vienna. Walter’s Grandfather was the founder of the department store, and it was a Viennese institution. Having listened to Walter’s gentle voice describing the horror of what happened after the Nazis took power, some of the staff at the store immediately taking over, grabbing and stealing, people being murdered while Walter was standing in line in the snow overnight to get Visas to leave the country, I kept thinking – How could Walter have the courage and the strength to come back to Austria, how could he not just hate the place? Even today, I am deeply ashamed of what Austrians did. And yet Walter came. He came often. And he was heard. He was admired. He reached out. And I guess even all the terror he and his family and friends experienced did not stop this feeling of belonging. It was people like Walter sharing his story that caused a new interest of a new generation of Austrians to take a firm stand against Fascists, Antisemitism, and any form of Racism – a cathartic period that Germany had gone through many decades earlier.

So Walter made new friends in Austria, he left a deep impression on countless Austrians beyond the musical world. He was an ambassador of the Austria that remembers, that cares, that reaches out. Without forgetting. That is so needed, when so much is at risk again in my home country. It is people like Walter that make me proud to be Austrian. And for my generation, the role models we believed in were found more easily in the exile communities of New York, Los Angeles and London rather than in Vienna.


When I heard of Walter’s passing, one of my first thoughts was whether anyone in Austria would take note. But a day later, I was overwhelmed. The top politicians in Austria’s Government as well as the City of Vienna paid their tributes. Print media is still very important in Austria. Every newspaper wrote extensively. Not just the usual obituaries. Some articles read like real declarations of love, warm-hearted, very detailed and lengthy stories recollecting Walter’s pre-war life, his long, successful years as a music critic, and also very informed about his work as a composer. Austrian Television and Radio reported extensively. And when I learnt that Walter will have a resting place of honor in the Wiener Zentralfriedhof, the legendary central cemetery in Vienna, I was proud and excited. He will be joining Beethoven, Gustav Mahler, Johann Strauss, Arnold Schönberg, Franz Werfel, Lotte Lehmann amongst many others. And rightly so.

Dear Howard, we at Villa Aurora and Thomas Mann House are proud of our long association and friendship with Walter Arlen. It is not enough to say that we will always honor his memory. We will go further: I think that Walter should also be known better as a composer. I can assure you that we are totally committed to play an active role in discovering and rediscovering Walter Arlen the composer. Music cannot be experienced by talking about it. Music needs to be played. Walter Arlen’s music needs to be played.

Dear Howard, we would love to be in touch to make this happen.

Please accept the condolences of the Board of Directors and the whole team of Villa Aurora and Thomas Mann House. We have lost Walter Arlen as a friend. But we will honor and celebrate Walter Arlen the composer.

Dr. Markus Klimmer

Chairman, Board of Directors, Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann House Berlin, September 2023


On the occasion of Walter Arlen's 100th birthday, Villa Aurora produced a special birthday tribute in his honor:

The Cenntenial of Walter Arlen | Zum 100. Geburtstag von Walter Arlen


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