I knew my husband´s music long before I met him. Growing up in Hungary during and after World War II, music was a refuge for me, as it was for so many during that dangerous, uncertain time.
Composers of popular music wrote in a life-affirming, romantic style to counter the terrors and despair of daily life. With the future, even survival itself, so uncertain, music became one of our most important possessions.
Many of the songs that I grew up with and loved were by Walter Jurmann—but the name meant nothing to me then. Many years later Walter talked about this. He felt that a composer lives through his music, so he never cared whether his name was in the limelight as long as his music brought pleasure to people.
In 1948 my mother and I had the great good fortune to be able to come to the United States. Here we made new lives for ourselves. And then one day at a party I met an elegant, charming man. He was sitting at the piano, playing some of my old favorites. Nostalgia came over me as I listened, and I went up to tell him that he was playing songs I loved. He smiled and said, with Viennese charm, “Do you really like them? I wrote them.” We started to talk, and I realized that his melodies were a reflection of his personality. I knew then that I had found the love of my life.
Walter was sensitive, romantic, and infinitely kind, and he possessed a wonderful sense of humor. His interests ranged widely, from the fine arts to world affairs. He was not at all self-centered, and he admired creativity wherever he found it, always taking genuine pleasure in the accomplishments of others. He was my biggest supporter in my career as fashion designer.
Walter did not live in the past. His credo was that what counts is the kind of person you are right now, today. This sincerity is reflected in his music. You could say that his music is a documentation of his life, his beliefs and feelings, and the cities and countries where he lived and worked. I remember Walter once telling me that he had put all of his enthusiasm and optimism about the United States into the song San Francisco. This was one of the first songs he wrote upon arriving in his new homeland, and today it is the official city song.
In any situation that called for a choice between integrity and professional advancement Walter was uncompromising. He chose to leave the music business fairly early, when he was still in his mid-forties, but he never stopped composing and engaging with life through his music. Never one for self-promotion, he believed that his work would stand on its own merits. And his belief has been confirmed again and again. During the last years of his life he received many tributes and was happy about the recognition. He captured his thoughts and philosophy of life in music one last time in the song A Better World to Live In, which expresses his hope for world peace and keeping “this great big world a place we can believe in.”
When I think of my husband I remember a generous, modest, profoundly caring man, a musician of absolute integrity who enjoyed using his great talent to bring joy into the lives of others.
Los Angeles, 2009