In light of Valentine’s Day later this week, I thought it would be fun to steer our jealousy theme this month to a love story—the story of Gustav and Alma Mahler. Today let’s look at a brief overview of Alma and why jealousy may have been a problem for the men in her life and on Wednesday, we’ll delve more into Gustav’s music and how love and jealousy appear in his work.
Alma Mahler was known for her ability to conquer men. She had a way of causing the men in her life to fall passionately in love with her and then leaving them for another, thus toying with many hearts. Prior to her marriage to Gustav, Alma led on the famous painter Gustav Klimt as well as the composer and her personal music teacher, Alexander von Zemlinksy. Poor Zemlinsky was thrown aside after the young Alma laid eyes on the man who promised to attract greater recognition within the music world: Gustav Mahler.
While it seems that Alma loved Gustav in her own way, she did have her struggles. Jealousy overcame her early on as, despite the fact that Gustav loved her completely in the present, she desired that he had never looked at another woman prior to their meeting—quite a lot to expect of anyone! She also struggled with Gustav’s request that she give up her own pursuits in composition upon their marriage. He once told her in a letter “From now on you have only one job: to make me happy!”
Later in her marriage to Gustav, Alma grew unhappy with the way her husband seemed to overlook her, spending too much time with his work. It was at that time that she met the young architect Walter Gropius who didn’t take long to fall under Alma’s spell. Gropius persistently pursued Alma, even writing her a letter of his love, accidentally addressed to Gustav! When the composer found out, he became enraged, fearful, and jealous of anyone who came in contact with his wife. Alma admitted in her Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters that she could never see herself with anyone but Gustav: “I could never have imagined life without him, even though the feeling that my life was running to waste had often filled me with despair.” Gustav later came around and realized that he should have never kept his wife from composing. They remained together until his death in 1911 after which Alma had love affairs with various men—some whom she married and others whom she did not. Several of these men include Oskar Kokoschka the artist, Walter Gropius the architect, and Franz Werfel the novelist.
Jealously likely affected all of the men passing in and out of Alma’s life. Next time, let’s look closer at several of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies that show both the love and despair brought on by his marriage to Alma.