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Arthur Willner (5 March 1881 – 6 April 1959) was a Czech composer and teacher.
Willner was born in Turn (Czech: Trnovany) in Teplitz-Schönau, Bohemia, Austrian Empire. Having trained in Leipzig and Munich, he secured his first significant academic post at the young age of twenty-three, when he was appointed deputy director of the Stern'sches Konservatorium, Berlin. He worked there from 1902 until 1924, teaching courses in composition, score reading, orchestration, harmony, counterpoint, canon and fugue. Then, was invited by former students to start a music conservatory in Istanbul. However, the extreme change of politics and government instability forced him to leave after 8 months. He moved to Vienna in 1923, where he taught at the Volkshochschule and Wiener Neues Konservatorium, and edited music for Universal Edition until his emigration.
On 15 March 1938, Willner left Austria for Paris to escape the German Anschluss of Austria; he moved to England later that year. After arriving in England, Willner received an invitation through the Jewish Centre, Woburn House from Arthur Franklin, director of Routledge & Co, to stay at Chartridge House, Buckinghamshire. Willner stayed for two months, during which time he composed the English Concerto for Chamber Orchestra (Op. 98). This work is one of only three English-themed works in his entire known output (the others being the Hereford Suite (Op. 102) and a handful of English songs).
In September 1939, Willner and his wife moved to Kington, Herefordshire, to stay at the gardener's cottage at Gravel Hill, residence of English composer E. J. Moeran's family. Willner earned his living partly as a teacher of composition - one of his pupils was the Australian composer Anne Macky. In 1945, Willner's wife, Cecile, became fatally ill and, after a short period in Edgbaston Hospital in Birmingham, she was moved to a nursing home in London. Cecile died later that year. Willner developed a heart condition in 1948, which left him bed-bound, until his own death at 68 Upshoot Hill, Cricklewood in 1959.
Willner composed over well over 100 works. Despite his relatively prominent place in the German musical establishment during the first part of the century, most of his works are now completely unknown. His Sonata for Solo Flute is currently in print. He is best remembered for his string orchestra transcription of Béla Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances for piano.
- There has been some confusion over the date of Willner's death: MGG gives 20 April 1959, whilst the 5th Edition of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians gives 7 April 1959. According to his death certificate, his death was registered on 6 April 1959. Raber 2007: 991, Baker 1971b: 254.
- Willner was initially appointed as a composition teacher in 1902 after Gustav Holländer heard his first string quartet; he was promoted to deputy director in 1904. Geiringer 1927: 365, Bekker 1908: 64–65.