Arnold Rosé was born in Iaşi (Jassy) in what is now Romania. As he and his three brothers showed musical potential the family moved to Vienna where his father established a thriving business as a carriage builder. Arnold began his musical studies at the age of seven, and at ten entered the first class in violin at the Vienna Conservatory, receiving instruction from Karl Heissler.
He made his first appearance in 1879 at a Leipzig Gewandhaus concert, and on 10 April 1881 he appeared with the Vienna Philharmonic Society in the first Viennese performance of Goldmark's violin concerto under Hans Richter. Shortly thereafter he received an engagement as solo violinist and leader of the orchestra at the Hoftheater or Vienna Court Opera (later the Staatsoper). This orchestra, in unique Viennese tradition, played both in the orchestra pit and on the concert platform, and were the parent of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra. He remained leader of these two venerable institutions until the 1930s. His reputation as an orchestral leader became legendary. For Sir Adrian Boult he was quite simply “Europe’s greatest orchestral leader of his time”.
In 1882 he founded the famous Rosé Quartet who were regarded as the finest string quartet of their time.
From 1893 to 1901 Rosé taught at the Vienna conservatory; he rejoined the faculty in 1908 and stayed until 1924. In 1888 Rosé made successful tours through Romania and Germany, and in 1889 was appointed concert-master at the Bayreuth Festivals. The story is told that during a performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre the orchestra were losing their way. Rosé stood up and gave a confident lead, bringing the orchestra back together in pitch and tempo. Mahler, who was in the audience, is said to have exclaimed: “Now there IS a concertmaster!” Both Arnold and his brother Eduard, the cellist, were to marry sisters of Mahler.
Gustav Mahler moved from Hamburg to Vienna in 1897 in order to take up the directorate of the Vienna Opera. His sisters Justine and Emma joined him in Vienna a year later. Eduard married Emma that very same month. Justine continued to live with her brother Gustav, keeping house for him. It was not long before a romantic attachment formed between her and Arnold. However, it was kept a secret, Justine being unwilling to marry until her brother had found himself a wife. This happened in 1902 when Gustav married Alma Schindler who was nearly 20 years his junior. She was considered “the most beautiful girl in Vienna”, and was the daughter of the landscape artist Emil Jakob Schindler. They were married on 9 March 1902 and Arnold and Justine were married the following day.
The Rosé family lived in comfortable circumstances, but life was never to be easy for Jews anywhere in Europe. Emperor Franz Josef had guaranteed “freedom of religion and conscience” in 1867, but the reality was often different. They had two children: Alfred (1902-1975), who became a pianist and conductor, and Alma (1906-1944) who was a very successful violinist, but whose career took a highly tragic turn as she ended up directing an orchestra of prisoners in the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. She eventually died in the camp.
Justine Rosé died on 22 August 1938. Arnold was devastated by her death. Unable to continue living under Nazi occupation, he left Vienna four weeks later and travelled via Holland to England where he spent the last six years of his life. He continued to play chamber music with Buxbaum and other colleagues. His last appearances were in 1945; thus his career stretched over 65 years. After he learned the terrible news of Alma's death at Birkenau, he found it difficult to continue with his work, and died soon afterward. He published editions of the violin sonatas of Bach and Beethoven and of Beethoven’s Quartets op 18.
In 1890 Rosé received the Grosse Goldene Verdienstkreuz from King Ludwig II of Bavaria. On the occasion of his 60th birthday he received the honorary title of “Hofrat” (Court Counsellor) which was a professional rank above “Professor”. He received numerous other awards from the Habsburg, Spanish and Italian courts, the republic of Austria, and the city of Vienna. He was a member of the royal musical establishment with the rank of k.u.k.Hofmusiker (Royal and Imperial Court Musician), and as such he had the privilege of a court carriage to carry him to the opera. He also had his own carriage, with fine livery, which took him to concerts at other venues.