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Femme fatale - Alma Mahler

Alma Mahler, the composer Gustav Mahler’s wife, was a lady out of the ordinary. Talented, beautiful and sparkling erotic, and is remembered mostly due to her men.

“The three years with him were a single, intense battle of love. Never before have I tasted so much strain, so much hell, so much paradise,” Alma Mahler-Werfel said about her lover Oskar Kokoschka, the master of expressionism, who painted her as “Windsbraut” (“The Tempest”), whom she began a passionate affair with in 1911.

“Nothing taste better than the sperm from a genius,” she has said. Artwork of a strange and chaotic originality from music, paintings, literature and perhaps even architecture are left behind on her road through life, made by lovers who were obsessed by her.

Alma Mahler got her first kiss from the famous painter Gustav Klimt. The poet Gerhard Haupt was an early lover. The conductor Alex Zemlinsky, her music teacher, was so in love with her that he became physical ill when she dumped him to marry Gustav Mahler, then musical director of the Vienna Opera.

Gustav Mahler tried in vain to chastise “his wild creature”, and call on Sigmund Freud to get advice and comfort when Alma had several adventures went to Walter Gropius, the genius architect, who founded the Bauhaus (‘House of Building’), one of the most influential architecture and design schools of the 20th century.

When the affair ended, and since Gustav Mahler died, Alma married the German painter Oskar Kokoschka, who was absolutely possessed by her. It’s said that he became “wild and crazy of erotically power”, which pictures from this period clearly showed at the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne, which united the whole German-speaking avant-garde, and with the Blaue Reiter in Munich.

Alma Mahler, the elegant society beauty, was considerably older than him, and by 1913 her relationship with Kokoschka was beginning to show signs of strain, and she cut him off to marry Franz Werfel, Czech-born poet, playwright, and novelist, Werfel’s best-known works include “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” (1933), a classic historical novel that portrays Armenian resistance to the Turks, and “The Song of Bernadette” (1941). The latter book had its start when Werfel, a Jew escaping the Nazis. His central themes were religious faith, heroism, and human brotherhood.

A liberated, passionate, mystical-erotic, half irrational woman... Franz Werfel, eleven years younger than Alma, had already been her lover for several years, even father to one of her children who was born in her marriage with Gropius. When the child later died the composer Alban berg wrote the violin concert “Dem Andenken eines Engels”. It’s most likely he had the child’s mother in mind.

Alma Mahler kept by Franz Werfel’s side and also followed him to United States when the seizing of power by the Nazis and the prohibition of his works made it impossible for Jewish intellectuals to stay (and survive). Werfel died in Hollywood in 1945. Alma was then 66 years old, and moved to New York and even made yet another marriage, this time with an obscure theologian, before she died at high age in 1964.

Alma Mahler was on one hand a femme fatale, who twisted the head of some of the most influenced artists in Central Europe whom she picked out of the catalogue of fame, and on the other hand she was a free erotic authority that delivered others talents. Modern feminists remember her with ambiguity. A liberated, passionate, mystical-erotic, half irrational, who within 1890 to 1930 represented Europe’s outermost modernity.

In a theatre in Venice, Italy, it’s played from August 22. to September 21.: “Alma. A Show Biz ans Ende” of Paulus Manker. It’s not played on one stage but on the whole Palazzo Zenobio, with acts on several room at the same time and on several languages, in the glare of candlelight. A theatrical journey in the footsteps of a woman, Alma Mahler-Gropius-Kokoschka- Werfel. Alma Mahler theatre production takes place in Lisbon this year (2003), next year in New York. Check out www.alma-mahler.at for updates.

In 2001 there was made a movie, “Bride of the Wind”, a bio picture of her life, as well as “Alma Mahler”, TV movie made in Croatia the same year. There is a also three part TV film about Alma made by the Alma Productions.

Her maiden name was Alma Schindler, born August 31, 1879 in Vienna. Her father was the prominent Viennese landscape painter Emil Jakob Schindler. Alma grew up in a privileged environment. She began composition studies with Alexander von Zemlinsky in 1897, her first lover, and she composed Lieder and instrumental pieces as well as starting work on an opera. When she, “the most beautiful girl in Vienna”, married the composer Gustav Mahler, was he 20 years older than her. Mahler said, perhaps typical for his time: “The role of composer falls to me, yours is that of loving companion...!”

By the time Mahler, after a crisis in their marriage, suddenly took an interest in her composition. He had five of her Lieder printed, but by then she had long given up. “Ten years of wasted development cannot be made up anymore. It was a galvanized corpse that he wanted to resurrect.”

This woman who had wanted to achieve fame by virtue of her own work now surrounded herself with famous men, “geniuses”. But the energetic, ambitious Alma, often described as power-hungry, was never the gentle, devoted muse. She writes in her memoirs: “God granted me the privilege of knowing the brilliant works of our time before they left the hands of their creators. And if I was allowed to assist these knights for a while, then my existence is justified and blessed!”

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