Arnold Walter | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Arnold Walter

Arnold Maria Walter, OC, musicologist, educator, administrator (born 30 August 1902 in Hannsdorf (Hanušovice), Moravia; died 6 October 1973 in Toronto, ON).

Arnold Maria Walter, OC, musicologist, educator, administrator (born 30 August 1902 in Hannsdorf (Hanušovice), Moravia; died 6 October 1973 in Toronto, ON). After immigrating to Canada in 1937, Arnold Walter became a visionary and influential leader of music education in Canada, developing musical talent and helping to build audiences for musical performance and appreciation. He introduced Carl Orff's teaching method in North America, and established both the Senior School and the Opera School at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now the Royal Conservatory of Music). Under his tenure as director (1952–68), the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto attained international stature, with the first electronic music studio in Canada and one of North America’s most comprehensive music libraries. Walter was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1971.

Early Years

The son and grandson of schoolmasters (his grandfather was also the village organist and choirmaster), Walter was classically educated in Brno, Moravia (now Czech Republic) and financed his private music studies by tutoring fellow students in Latin and Greek. He studied harmony and composition with Bruno Weigl, a pupil of Anton Bruckner, and attended law school at the University of Prague at his father’s insistence. He then turned to musicology at the University of Berlin, where his principal teachers were Hermann Abert, Curt Sachs and Johannes Wolf. At the same time, he studied piano with Rudolf Breithaupt and Frederic Lamond, and composition with Franz Schreker.

Early Music Writing

After brief medical studies at Masaryk University in Brno, Walter returned to Berlin. Unable to find work as a pianist-composer, he developed his talent for writing about music. He contributed to the music journal Melos. By the early 1930s, he was involved with the influential left-wing periodicals Die Weltbühne (as music editor) and Vorwärts (as music critic). Forced to leave Berlin because of his political allegiances, Walter emigrated to Majorca, Spain in 1933, where he studied folk music, learned three new languages (he could converse in a half-dozen languages, including Latin and Greek) and taught. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, he fled to England, where he researched folk music at Cecil Sharp House. While there, he became acquainted with Ralph Vaughan Williams, Imogen Holst, Maud Karpeles and other eminent folk scholars.

Early Career in Canada

In 1937, Walter accepted a teaching offer from Toronto’s Upper Canada College and taught there until 1943. He then worked as a freelancer before becoming the founding director of the Royal Conservatory Senior School at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now the Royal Conservatory of Music) in 1945. In 1946, he established the Opera School of the Conservatory (see also University of Toronto Opera Division, Canadian Opera Company) and introduced the first degree program in Canada for elementary and secondary school music teachers.

After extensive correspondence with the composer-methodologist Carl Orff, Walter arranged for Doreen Hall to teach the Orff approach at the Conservatory. The classes, which developed students’ inherent affinities for rhythm and melody through improvisation rather than mechanical drills, began in 1955 and were the first of their kind in North America. Hall and Walter also co-wrote the English-language versions of Orff's teaching manuals.

University of Toronto

When the University of Toronto reorganized its various music departments in 1952, Walter became director of the Faculty of Music, which was responsible for all degree programs including the diploma previously awarded by the Senior School at the Conservatory. His tenure as director (1952–68) was a period of extraordinary growth. Academic programs were strengthened and new programs were added at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Under his direction, the University of Toronto music library was expanded into the largest of its kind in Canada and one of the finest in North America; an electronic music studio, the first in Canada, was also inaugurated. Both were housed in the new Edward Johnson Building, which Walter helped to plan.

Organizational Involvement

During this time, Walter’s activities took on national and international dimensions. He was chairman of the editorial board of The Canadian Music Journal from 1956–62, and served as president of the International Society for Musical Education (1953–55), the Canadian Music Centre (in 1959 and 1970), the Canadian Music Council (1965–66) and the Inter-American Music Council (1969–72). He was the founding president of the Canadian Association of University Schools of Music (now Canadian University Music Society) from 1965–67, and was a founding member of the board of trustees of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Following his tenure as director of University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, he continued to work there as a professor and special lecturer.


Walter composed intermittently throughout his life. With the exception of his “Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano” (1940), which won the Canadian Performing Rights Society Award in 1943, he was not particularly successful as a composer. His aesthetic was primarily that of pre-First World War Europe, and he seemed reluctant to digress from the influence of Mahler, Strauss, Debussy, Scriabin and the young Schoenberg. Much of this music was unfashionable, unknown even in Toronto, and Walter’s compositions struck many as lacking in the dynamism and forward thrust that he was known for. The failure of his works to gain wide acceptance, despite the efforts of friends and colleagues to promote them, was a source of great disappointment to him.


Many of Walter’s ideas were ahead of their time, and some of his attempts to turn vision into reality met with strong opposition and resentment. An aura of controversy often surrounded his activities, but his greatest legacy may be the institutions he helped to create. He was keenly aware that the development of talent and the development of the marketplace had to go hand in hand, and that the key to this success was the education of both musicians and audiences through public and private subsidization, and the activities of strong organizations.

His best creative energies were invested in teaching and in his many essays, articles and lectures. His writings, liberally sprinkled with quotations from the world’s great authors and thinkers, reflect an enormous erudition. His students included such diverse musical personalities as Paul McIntyre, Phil Nimmons, Clermont Pépin and Howard Brown. In his teaching, and especially in his writing, Walter sought to emphasize the place of music in society and the debt society owes to music. At the time of his death at the age of 71, he was working on a book about music in a technological age.


In 1974, the concert hall in the Edward Johnson Building at the University of Toronto was named Walter Hall in his memory, and the Arnold Walter Memorial Award for performance students was established by the university. The Canadian Music Centre holds a collection of his compositions and recordings, and his papers are held at Library and Archives Canada.


Christian Culture Award, Assumption University (1945)

National Award in Music, University of Alberta (1958)

Honorary Degree, Mount Allison University (1966)

Award of Merit, the Corporation of the City of Toronto (1971)

Officer, Order of Canada (1971)

A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.

Bob Hahn