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Alma Mahler

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Alma Mahler
YoungAlmaMahler.jpg
Alma Mahler (c. 1902).
Born Alma Margaretha Maria Schindler
31 August 1879
Vienna, Austria-Hungary
Died 11 December 1964(1964-12-11) (aged 85)
New York City, New York, U.S., buried 8 February 1965
Burial place Grinzing Cemetery, Vienna
Nationality Austrian
American
Occupation Composer, socialite, author, editor
Spouse(s) Gustav Mahler (1902–1911: his death)
Walter Gropius (1915–1920: divorced)
Franz Werfel (1929–1945: his death)
Children María Mahler (1902–1907), Anna Mahler (1904–1988), Manon Gropius (1916–1935), Martin Johannes Gropius (1918–1919)

Alma Maria Mahler Gropius Werfel (born Alma Margaretha Maria Schindler; 31 August 1879 – 11 December 1964) was a Viennese-born composer, author, editor and socialite. At fifteen she was mentored by Max Burckhard. Musically active from her early years, she was the composer of at least 17 songs for voice and piano.

In her early years she fell in love with Alexander von Zemlinsky but their relationship did not last long. She became the wife of composer Gustav Mahler, who would not allow her to continue composing. Eventually she fell into depression from being artistically stifled. While her marriage was struggling, she had an affair with Walter Gropius. Mahler started to encourage Alma's composing and helped prepare some of her compositions for publication, but died soon after this attempted reconciliation in 1911. Alma married Gropius in 1915 and the couple had a daughter together, Manon Gropius. During her marriage to Gropius Alma had an affair with Franz Werfel. Alma and Werfel were eventually married after Alma separated from Gropius.

In 1938, after the Anschluss, Werfel and Alma were forced to flee Austria as it was unsafe for Jews. Eventually the couple settled in Los Angeles. In later years her salon became part of the artistic scene, first in Vienna, then in Los Angeles and in New York.

Early years[edit]

Alma Maria Schindler was born on 31 August 1879 in Vienna, Austria (then Austria-Hungary), to the famous landscape painter Emil Jakob Schindler and his wife Anna Sofie. She was tutored at home and brought up in the Roman Catholic Church. In 1889 Crown Prince Rudolf found interest in Emil Jakob Schindler's paintings and commissioned Schindler to take a trip with his family to the Adriatic coast to produce landscape paintings. In 1892 the family also traveled to the North Sea island of Sylt where Emil Schindler died.[1]:1–7

After her father's death, Alma focused on the piano. She studied counterpoint with Josef Labor, a blind organist who introduced her to a "great deal of literature". At fifteen she was sent to school but attended for only a few months.[1]:1–7 As she grew older, a case of childhood measles left her with decreased hearing. Max Burckhard, friend of Emil Schindler and director of Vienna's Burgtheater theater, became Alma's mentor. On Alma's seventeenth birthday, Burckhard gave her two laundry baskets full of books. In 1897 Anna Schindler, Alma's mother, married Carl Moll, Emil Schindler's student. They had a daughter together named Maria.[1]:8–10

Alma met Gustav Klimt through Carl Moll. Moll and Klimt were both founding members of the Secession, "a group organized for the purpose of breaking with Vienna's tradition-bound Imperial Academy of the visual arts". Klimt fell in love with Alma. While she initially was interested in Klimt her desire cooled soon after. Klimt and Alma were friends until Klimt's death. In fall 1897 Alma began studying composition with Alexander Zemlinsky. Zemlinsky and Alma fell in love and kept their relationship a secret.[1]:10–16

Gustav Mahler

Alma would tease Zemlinsky about what she thought were his ugly features, saying she could easily have "ten others" to replace him. She also noted that to marry Zemlinsky would mean she would "bring short, degenerate Jew-children into the world".[2]:16–35 As the relationship grew strained, Zemlinsky visited her less and less. On 1 November 1901 she attended Zuckerkandls' salon where she began a flirtation with Gustav Mahler. In the month of November, while still in a relationship with Zemlinsky, she started an affair with Mahler. By 28 November, Mahler and Alma were engaged. However, it wasn't until 12 December that she wrote to Zemlinsky about her engagement.[2]:16–35

Marriage to Gustav Mahler[edit]

Alma Mahler with her daughters Maria (at left) and Anna (at right), cabinet card photo circa 1906
Walter Gropius and Alma Mahler with their daughter Manon (1918)

On 9 March 1902 she married Gustav Mahler, who was 19 years her senior and the director of the Vienna Court Opera.[2]:45 With him she had two daughters, Maria Anna (1902–1907), who died of scarlet fever or diphtheria, and Anna (1904–1988), who became a sculptor.[1]:233,251 The terms of Alma's marriage to Gustav were that she would abandon her own interest in composing. Artistically stifled herself, she embraced her role as a loving wife and supporter of Mahler's music.[1]:48–54

Later in their marriage, after becoming severely depressed in the wake of Maria's death, she began an affair with the young architect Walter Gropius (later head of the Bauhaus), whom she met during a rest at a spa.[1] Gustav sought advice from Sigmund Freud, who cited Gustav's curtailing of Alma's musical career as a major marital obstacle. Following the emotional crisis in their marriage after Gustav's discovery of Alma's affair with Gropius, Gustav began to take a serious interest in Alma's musical compositions, regretting his earlier dismissive attitude and taking promotional actions. Gustav edited and re-orchestrated some (Die stille Stadt, In meines Vaters Garten, Laue Sommernacht, Bei dir ist es traut, Ich wandle unter Blumen) of her works.[1]:111[3]:85–89 Upon his urging, and under his guidance, Alma prepared five of her songs for publication (they were issued in 1910, by Gustav's own publisher, Universal Edition).[1]:113–119

In February 1911, Gustav fell severely ill with an infection related to a heart defect that had been diagnosed several years earlier. He died on 18 May.[2]:66

Relationship with Walter Gropius[edit]

After Gustav's death, Alma did not immediately resume contact with Gropius. Between 1912 and 1914 she had a tumultuous affair with the artist Oskar Kokoschka, who created works inspired by his relationship with her, including his painting The Bride of the Wind.[2]:83–85 Kokoschka's possessiveness wore on Alma, and the emotional vicissitudes of the relationship tired them both.[1]

With the coming of World War I, Kokoschka enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Alma subsequently distanced herself from Kokoschka and resumed contact with Walter Gropius, who was also serving in combat at that time.[2]:85–95 She and Gropius married in 1915 during one of his military leaves.[2]:85–90 They had a daughter together, Manon Gropius (1916–1935), who grew up being friends with Maria Altmann.[1] After Manon died of polio at the age of 18, composer Alban Berg wrote his Violin Concerto in her memory.[1]:239–242

Alma became pregnant and gave birth to a son, Martin Carl Johannes Gropius (1918–1919). Gropius at first believed that the child was his, but Alma's ongoing affair with Franz Werfel was common knowledge in Vienna by this time.[1]:185 Within a year, they agreed to a divorce. In the meantime, Martin, who had been born prematurely, developed hydrocephalus and died at the age of ten months. Alma's divorce from Gropius became final in 1920.[2]:127

Relationship with Franz Werfel[edit]

House of Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler in Sanary-sur-Mer

While Gropius's military duties were still keeping him absent, Alma met and began an affair with Prague-born poet and writer Franz Werfel in the fall of 1917. She and Werfel began openly living together from that point on. However, she postponed marrying Werfel until 1929, after which she took the name Alma Mahler-Werfel.[2]:150

In 1938, following the Anschluss, Alma and Werfel, who was Jewish, were forced to flee Austria for France; they maintained a household in Sanary-sur-Mer, on the French Riviera, from summer 1938 until spring 1940.[2]:163–171 With the German invasion and occupation of France during World War II, and the deportation of Jews and political adversaries to Nazi concentration camps, the couple was no longer safe in France and frantically sought to secure their emigration to the United States. In Marseilles, they were contacted by Varian Fry, an American journalist and emissary of the Emergency Rescue Committee, a private American relief organization that aided refugee intellectuals and artists at that time.[3]:148

As exit visas could not be obtained, Fry arranged for the Werfels to journey on foot across the Pyrenees into Spain, to evade the Vichy French border officials. From Spain, Alma and Franz traveled on to Portugal and then boarded a ship for New York City.[3]:148 Eventually they settled in Los Angeles, where Alma continued her role as a hostess, bringing together Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Thomas Mann, and many other artists. Werfel, who had already enjoyed moderate renown in the US as an author, achieved popular success with his novel The Song of Bernadette, which was made into a film in 1943, and the science fiction novel, Star of the Unborn, published after his death. Werfel, who had experienced serious heart problems throughout his exile, died of a heart attack in California in 1945.[3]:150–154

Cultural icon in the US[edit]

In 1946 Mahler-Werfel became a U.S. citizen. Several years later she moved to New York City, where she remained a cultural figure. Leonard Bernstein, who was a champion of Gustav Mahler's music, stated in his Charles Eliot Norton lectures of 1973 that Mahler-Werfel had attended some of his rehearsals.[4] Bernstein considered her to be a "living" link to both Mahler and Alban Berg. Bernstein dedicated his Nocturne for Tenor and Small Orchestra to Mahler-Werfel.[3]:154

Death and legacy[edit]

Alma Mahler-Werfel died 11 December 1964 in New York City. She is buried in the Grinzing section of Vienna, in the same cemetery as her daughter Manon Gropius and her first husband Gustav Mahler.[3]:153–154

Shortly after her death, noted satirist Tom Lehrer wrote a song called "Alma" which centred on her role as wife and muse to three prominent artists. Like many Lehrer songs, it is irreverent in tone, portraying her as a difficult, temperamental companion to the three work-absorbed artists. A portion of the song goes, Alma, tell us! All modern women are jealous. Which of your magical wands got you Gustav and Walter and Franz? Tom Lehrer played this song at his concert at the hungry i, 1965.[5]

In the 1974 film Mahler, by director Ken Russell, Gustav Mahler, while on his last train journey, remembers the important events of his life, such as his relationship with his wife, the deaths of his brother and young daughter, and his trouble with the muses. In the film, Alma was portrayed by Georgina Hale, and Gustav by Robert Powell.[6] In 1996, Israeli writer Joshua Sobol and Austrian director Paulus Manker created the polydrama Alma. It played in Vienna for six successive seasons, and toured with over 400 performances to Venice, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Petronell, Berlin, Semmering, Jerusalem, and Prague—all places where Mahler-Werfel had lived. The show was made into a three-part TV miniseries in 1997.[7]

Mohammed Fairouz set the words of Alma Mahler in his song cycle Jeder Mensch. It premiered in a coupling with songs of Alma Mahler by mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey in 2011.[8]

A treatment of Mahler-Werfel's life was presented in the 2001 Bruce Beresford film Bride of the Wind, in which Alma was played by Australian actress Sarah Wynter. Gustav Mahler was portrayed by British actor Jonathan Pryce. Swiss actor Vincent Pérez portrayed Oskar Kokoschka.[9]

In 1998 extracts from Alma's diaries were published, covering the years from 1898 to 1902, up until the time she married Mahler. In the 2001 novel The Artist's Wife by Max Phillips, she tells her own story from the afterlife, focusing on her complicated relationships.[10]

In 2010 the German filmmaker Percy Adlon and his son Felix Adlon released their film Mahler auf der Couch (Mahler on the Couch), which relates Gustav Mahler's tormented relationship with his wife Alma and his meeting with Sigmund Freud in 1910. In the film's introduction, the directors stated, "That it happened is fact. How it happened is fiction."[11]

The Alma Problem[edit]

Mahler-Werfel's two books on Gustav Mahler influenced studies of the latter. As an articulate, well-connected, and influential woman who outlived her first husband by more than 50 years, Mahler-Werfel was for decades treated as the main authority on the mature Gustav Mahler's values, character, and day-to-day behavior, and her various publications quickly became the central source material for Mahler scholars and music-lovers alike. As scholars investigated her depiction of Mahler and her relationship with him, her accounts have increasingly been revealed as unreliable, false, and misleading. Nevertheless, the deliberate distortions have had a significant influence on several generations of scholars, interpreters, and music-lovers.[12]

Citing the serious contradictions between Alma's accounts and other evidence, including her own diaries, several historians and biographers have begun to speak of the "Alma Problem." According to Hugh Wood, "Often she is the only witness, and the biographer has to depend on her while doubting with every sentence her capacity for telling the truth. Everything that passed through her hands must be regarded as tainted".[12]

As a composer[edit]

Alma played the piano from childhood and in her memoirs, reports that she first attempted composing at age nine. She studied composition with Josef Labor beginning in 1895. She met Alexander von Zemlinsky in early 1900, began composition lessons with him that fall, and continued as his student until her engagement with Gustav Mahler in December 1901, after which she ceased composing. Up until that time, she had composed or sketched Lieder, and worked on instrumental pieces and a segment of an opera. She may have resumed composing after 1910, at least sporadically, but the chronology of her songs is difficult to establish because she did not date her manuscripts.[2]

Only a total of 17 songs by her survive. Fourteen were published during her lifetime, in three publications dated 1910, 1915, and 1924; it is unclear whether she continued composing at all after her last publication. The first two volumes appeared under the name Alma Maria Schindler-Mahler, and the last volume was published as "Fünf Gesänge" by Alma Maria Mahler; the cover of the 1915 set was illustrated by Oskar Kokoschka. Three additional songs were discovered in manuscript posthumously; two of them were published in the year 2000, edited by Dr. Susan M. Filler, and one remains unpublished. Her personal papers, including music manuscripts, are held at the University of Pennsylvania, the Austrian National Library in Vienna, and the Bavarian State Library in Munich.[13] These songs have been regularly performed and recorded since 1980. Orchestral versions of the accompaniments have been produced. Seven songs were orchestrated by David and Colin Matthews (published by Universal Edition),[14] and all 17 songs were orchestrated by Julian Reynolds,[15] and by Jorma Panula.[16]

Works[edit]

Compositions cited from Mahler, A Complete Songs unless otherwise noted.[16]

  • Five Songs for voice & piano (published in January 1911)
    • (i) Die stille Stadt (The Quiet Town; Richard Dehmel)
    • (ii) In meines Vaters Garten (In My Father's Garden; Erich Otto Hartleben)
      Note: The original poem is entitled Französisches Wiegenlied or Volkslied, and was composed between May and August 1899.
    • (iii) Laue Sommernacht (Mild Summer's Night; Bierbaum)
      Note: The original title of the poem is Gefunden.
    • (iv) Bei dir ist es traut (With You It Is Pleasant; Rilke)
    • (v) Ich wandle unter Blumen (I Stroll Among Flowers; Heine)
  • Four Songs for voice and piano (published in June 1915)
    • (i) Licht in der Nacht (Light in the Night; Bierbaum)
    • (ii) Waldseligkeit (Woodland Bliss; Dehmel)
    • (iii) Ansturm (Storm; Dehmel)
    • (iv) Erntelied (Harvest Song; Gustav Falke)The original title is Gesang am Morgen (Song at Dawn).
  • Five Songs for voice and piano (published in April 1924)
    Note:No. 1, 3 and 4 were orchestrated by Paul v. Klenau and/or Alban Berg in 1924 and were premiered in Vienna on 22 September 1924 by tenor Laurenz Hofer and conductor Leopold Reichwein. The songs were performed again at a broadcast in the Vienna Radio on 17 February 1929 by tenor Anton Maria Topitz and conductor Rudolf Nilius. On this occasion an interview with Alma Mahler was broadcast. Scores and parts are presumably lost.
    • (i) Hymne (Hymn; Novalis)
    • (ii) Ekstase (Ecstasy; Bierbaum)
    • (iii) Der Erkennende (The Recognizer; Werfel)
    • (iv) Lobgesang (Song of Praise; Dehmel)
    • (v) Hymne an die Nacht (Hymn to the Night; Novalis)
  • Posthumously published (2000)
    • Leise weht ein erstes Blühn (Softly Drifts a First Blossom; Rilke), for voice and piano
    • Kennst du meine Nächte? (Do You Know My Nights?; Leo Greiner), for voice and piano

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Monson, Karen (1983). Alma Mahler Muse to Genius. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 978-0-395-32213-0. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hilmes, Oliver (2015). Malevolent muse The life of Alma Mahler. Boston, Massachusetts: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 978-1-55553-789-0. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Giroud, Françoise (1991). Alma Mahler or the Art of Being Loved. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-816156-1. 
  4. ^ She was photographed in such rehearsals by Alfred Eisenstaedt, see e.g. the Euterpe blog.
  5. ^ "Alma Mahler ~ "The loveliest girl in Vienna was Alma, the smartest as well"". YouTube. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  6. ^ "Festival De Cannes". Festival Cannes. Retrieved 2 March 2018. 
  7. ^ "Joshua Sobol". ALMA. Retrieved 19 March 2018. 
  8. ^ Moore, Tom. "Mohammed Fairouz: An Interview". Opera Today. Retrieved 2 March 2018. 
  9. ^ Koehler, Robert (2001). "BRIDE OF THE WIND". Variety. 383 (4). 
  10. ^ Boxer, Sarah. "The Merry Widow". New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved 2 March 2018. 
  11. ^ DeWitt, David. "When Mahler Met Freud 'Mahler on the Couch,' Directed by Percy and Felix Adlon". New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved 2 March 2018. 
  12. ^ a b "Part Three: Reviews for the Times Literary Supplement: Hugh Wood: Staking Out the Territory" (PDF). Literary Review. Archived from the original on 10 July 2017. Retrieved 21 March 2018. 
  13. ^ "Mahler-Werfel Papers". Penn Libraries. 
  14. ^ "The Alma problem". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 March 2018. 
  15. ^ "Zemlinsky: Songs (complete, orch. Julian Reynolds) (Charlotte Margiono ; Members of the…) | Classical music review from Classical-Music.com". www.classical-music.com. Retrieved 5 March 2018. 
  16. ^ a b O'Connor, Patrick (9 January 2013). "Mahler, A Complete Songs". www.gramophone.co.uk. Retrieved 5 March 2018. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Alma Mahler, My Life, My Loves: Memoirs of Alma Mahler Vermilon Books, reprint edition (February 1989) ISBN 978-0312025403
  • Alma Mahler-Werfel, Diaries 1898–1902 (ed. and translator, Antony Beaumont and Susanne Rode-Breymann) Faber and Faber (1 February 1999) ISBN 978-0571193400
  • Alma Mahler-Werfel, 'And the bridge is love' Hutchinson of London, first published September 1959,third impression April 1960
  • Gustav Mahler, Letters to his Wife [1901–11]. Edited by Henry-Louis de La Grange and Günther Weiss, in Collaboration with Knud Martner. First complete edition, revised and translated by Antony Beaumont (Faber and Faber, London 2004)
  • Karen Monson, Alma Mahler: Muse to Genius: From Fin-de-Siècle Vienna to Hollywood's Heyday (1983)
  • Susanne Rode-Breymann, Die Komponistin Alma Mahler-Werfel (Hanover, 1999)
  • Susanne Rode-Breymann, Alma Mahler-Werfel. Muse, Gattin, Witwe (C. H. Beck, Munich 2014)
  • "Walter Gropius" in Nicholas Fox Weber (Author)The Bauhaus Group: Six Masters of Modernism (New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.) ISBN 978-0300169843 The chapter opens with her story. pp. 1–5; 11–15; 27–42

External links[edit]