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Walter Dahms

(later used the name: Walter Gualterio Armando)

It is very little known about the composer Walter Dahms. The story about writing a biography about him is indeed so very special, that Nicolas Slonimsky - the renowned composer, musicologist and for several decades editor of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians - reported his memories about this task in an interview in 1979. It can't be cut short and therefore - and for amusement - I quote the complete story at the very end of this page.


Walter Dahms was born on 9 June 1887 in Berlin (Germany). There are no provable information about his musical education beside some private studies with Adolf Schultze, the director of the Luisen Conservatory in Berlin. After his studies Walter Dahms worked as violinist and conductor at different ensembles in Berlin. He also wrote articles and critics for several newspapers, but in the 1910s became famous for his books on Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. In the 1920s Walter Dahms travelled a lot and stayed alternately in Rome, Milano, Nizza, Paris and Berlin but nevertheless continued his work. In 1921 the German Nietzsche Association commissioned him to write a book on Friedrich Nietzsche and music. In the next years books on Chopin and Johann Sebastian Bach followed. Walter Dahms also translated many Italian opera libretti into German.

Around the year 1930 Walter Dahms changed his name into Walter Gualterio Armando and in 1935 he moved to Lisbon. He continued to write books on musical topics and published them under his new name. Among the publications were books on Franz Liszt, Niccolo Paganini and Richard Wagner, but also a modern edition of the memories of Fernao Mendes Pinto or a book on the history of Portugal.

Walter Dahms died on 10 May 1973 in Lisbon (Portugal).

There are little information about the compositions by Walter Dahms. His main profession was writing books about music and it seems that he did not compose very much. A composition for men's chorus op.5 was published in 1914 and a Concertino for oboe and string orchestra was published under his new name Gualterio Armando and is his opus 11. Other works from his catalogue are unknown.


In my possession is the autograph full score of the String quartet No.1 by Walter Dahms. The manuscript shows the name "Gualterio Armando" and the address "Rua Fabrica das Sedas, 21" in Lisbon and so the work dates from the time after 1935. Unfortunately my manuscript gives no exact date.

But the Saxonian State Archive in Leipzig (Germany) holds a second autograph manuscript of this string quartet. Their score has the information that the premiere took place on 12 February 1940 at the "Sociedade Nacional de Musica de Camara" in Lisbon. But that is incorrect. The Portugal National Library holds the autograph parts of this string quartet and the folder contains a newspaper review that documents the premiere on 17 December 1939 by the eminent Portuguese violinist Luis Barbosa and his quartet.

In a letter by Walter Dahms to the publishing house Simrock (which is archived at the Saxonian State Archive), Walter Dahms mentioned the interest of the "New Hungarian String Quartet" in his work. Simrock was interested in publishing the string quartet, but due to the chaos of World War II this did not happen. 

PDF-Dokument [931.6 KB]

The weird story of writing a biography about Walter Dahms


The following text was published in the book "Muses and Lexicons", an interview with Nicolas Slonimsky by Thomas Bertonneau and published through the Oral History Program of the University of California in Los Angeles in 1979. The quote below can befound on the pages 273ff. in the mentioned book:


"I found that a German musicologist named Walter Dahms figured in every dictionary, in Riemann's Musik Lexikon, in Baker's of course, in the International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians of Thompson — they all copied each other. But nevertheless, there was this Dahms, who published several monographs on German composers. And then according to my edition (I mean the previous edition of Baker), he went to Rome in 1921 . . . and after that not a word. Now, I wrote to Germany, asked about Dahms, and no one seemed to know about Dahms. And then it became a sort of an obsession with me. Every time I would meet someone from Germany or from Central Europe, in general [..]. I met a lady from Prague [Mrs. Vogel], and I again mentioned Dahms — I mean, speaking of my dictionaries. So she said, "Dahms? I know him very well. I saw him recently in Lisbon, Portugal." So I said, "Really?" I said, "You are the first person to give me any news of him after 1921." So she said, "Sure, he's in Lisbon." She said, "He writes in Portuguese — He changed his name. I don't remember his Portuguese name, but he's there." So I said, "Are you sure?" "Yes," she said, "I'm absolutely sure." So in my supplement in 1965, I added this bit of information, that he went to Lisbon and was living there, at least in 1960 (that was the time when I heard about it) .
Now, completely unbeknownst to me, this started a terrific ruckus in the editorial offices of Riemann's Musik Lexikon in Lisbon and various other places. I wrote to the editor of Riemann's Musik Lexikon, with whom I was in constant correspondence [..], and I asked him whether he could verify this information about Dahms being in Lisbon. Although I fully trusted this lady musicologist from Prague, still I wanted to be absolutely sure. In his reply, he sent me copies of his voluminous correspondence with a German musicologist who actually lived in Lisbon whose name was [Santiago] Kastner, no connection with Dahms. So the editor of Riemann's Musik Lexikon wrote to this man Kastner, a German living in Lisbon, and asked him whether Walter Dahms was actually in Lisbon. To which this musicologist replied that he knows a lot of Germans in Lisbon, but he has no idea who Dahms may be, and furthermore he inquired at the German consulate and they didn't know Walter Dahms. He said that the only supposition is that perhaps a former German national who lived in Lisbon but whose name was [Walter] Gualterio Armando was perhaps Walter Dahms who changed his name. And accordingly, he wrote a letter to this Gualterio Armando, asking him whether he was identical with Walter Dahms. He said that he was acting at the request of the editor of Riemann's Musik Lexikon. To which he received an amazing letter from Gualterio Armando saying, in effect, "I cannot understand what you are trying to do by conducting some curious spying actions behind my back. I can tell you that I have nothing to do with the person mentioned, Herr W.D." — he didn't even say Walter Dahms — "that I'm identical only with myself. I hope that this will put an end to your actions for which I cannot find a proper name."
So this German sent a copy of this letter to the editor of Riemann's Musik Lexikon and said that he was quite shocked at this kind of rebuff. He also wrote to Gualterio Armando saying that he inquired in good faith simply because he was asked to inquire, and he thought that maybe there was a question of identity, but that he certainly didn't intend to meddle with his personal affairs or whatever. At the same time he wrote to Riemann and said that this certainly was a terrible rebuff and said, "I absolutely wash my hands of this question of Walter Dahms." But he said, "On the other hand, I can't understand why he should be so vehement in denying his identity. So maybe this asshole" — he used the German expression Arschloch — "maybe he is Walter Dahms, and maybe he has something to hide, because he's so vehement in his denial."
Well, anyway, when I got all this correspondence, I said to myself, "Well, I've got to find out whether Gualterio Armando is Walter Dahms or not." I figured out that Gualterio was really Walter, and that if you take the letters from the word Armando you could make up Dahms almost. Then he sent a curriculum vitae, this Armando, to Riemann, which coincided pretty nearly with the known curriculum vitae of Dahms, except that he was born in June 18, 1887 - I mean, Walter Dahms - while Armando said that he was born on the same date, except in 1897. In other words, he diminished his age by ten years. But he wrote monographs on German composers, and he continued to write those monographs and publish them in Germany under the name of Armando. So this was too much of a coincidence. And besides, I still had the lady's word that she knew him personally."

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