Interview mit Joshua Sobol
What is a Polydrama?
Our experience with the audience
Genesis of the play
Alma - a monster of the 20th century
No creative energy without
sexual energy

Mother figure or femme fatale?
Alma's relation to Judaism
Love at first sight: Alma's men
Alma's sacrifice for Mahler
An epitomy of the 20th century
The curse of Alma's Autobiography
The encounter between
Mahler and Freud


The encounter between Mahler and Freud

Paulus Manker
The turning of the century was the best possible breeding ground for the development of the psychoanalysis, with all the hidden feelings and desires - all that what Alma did not live according to. And there we are at the point where your work on Alma actually started, with Gustav Mahler. One of the most interesting events in Mahler´s life was probably that notorious meeting between him and Sigmund Freud in that Dutch Spa, in Leyden. We don´t have too many sources about it, but it´s obvious that something very important for Alma and for Gustav happened there through Freud´s "instant" analysis, saying: "Go back, go home, fuck your mother, and accept him as your father!" - and it worked.

Sigmund Freud Leiden Gustav Mahler
Sigmund Freud (ca.1900)   City of Leiden, Southern Netherlands   Gustav Mahler (1909)

Joshua Sobol
It is a very interesting encounter between Mahler and Freud, between those two "monsters" who lived in the same town, and probably crossed one another on the street a few times without ever meeting one another, and having a conversation with one another before. Until that moment came when Gustav simply needed Sigmund very badly, and was ready to take leave from his rehearsals in Munich, and run to see him in Leyden, even for those few hours. As I see those four hours of the meeting in Leyden, they are very intriguing. I once thought of writing a play only about that meeting, there is certainly material for a play there. I had a very crazy idea how to do it, and there is only a hint of it in the scene now: it is the moment after they finish that kind of ridiculous pschoanalysis which Freud treats as a joke. In my mind Freud couldn´t think seriously that in four hours you could psychoanalyse a man who comes to you with the problem of impotence, and says: "I can´t make love to my wife, and I need your help!" What could you say- Sprinkle some salt? Freud was not a fool, he knew that you cannot make a psychoanalysis in four hours.

Mahler's mother Marie Gustav Mahler Alma Mahler
Mahler's mother Marie   Gustav Mahler   Alma Mahler

So my idea was to have Freud, in a way, saying to him: "You want an instant psychoanalysis? I can make it to you in half an hour, if you want." We know that they walked around in the streets of Leyden, and Freud says that he never met a person with such a deep insight into psychoanalysis as Mahler had. And Mahler probably furnished him all the material, telling him the story of his childhood, how he first got initiated to music, and the feeling of power that music gave him, the fact that it gave him superiority over his tyrannical father, that it gave him a central place in the familiy. And yet there was that terrible relationship, this painful relationship between the father and the mother. The father being violent, and abusing, and beating the mother, and the mother crying, and running out of the house, and little Gustav listening to that frivolous folkmusic on the street, and from that moment mixing frivolous motives with deeply tragic themes in his music. I think that Mahler almost furnished Freud with an explanation.
But what I dared to do in the play is to allow Freud to come out with some "ethnic" explanations to Mahler´s music, and with a kind of an almost "cultural" psychoanalysis by saying: "Listen, my good friend, it has nothing to do with your personal biography. That is a special style of your music. It has a lot to do with your origins, with the fact that you are Jewish. And as a Jew you have no respect for the sublime if it is not mixed with the terrestrian, with the everyday life, with the basic moments of life." Freud says in the play that we Jews know that God is crazy, and that he refuses to undergo a psychoanalysis. So, how can we take him seriously? We cannot. And that´s why, whenever we speak about God we mix a joke into it, and we dismiss him with a joke sometimes. And he says: "That´s what you are doing with your music, because you feel that we are living in a world where the grotesque and the sublime are mixed together, and there is no way to seperate one from the other." And he tells Mahler: "Be yourself. For once accept yourself. Stop trying to be a different person, stop trying to become different. Stop making efforts. Be what you are." And in a way he says to him: "You are her father, o.k. You are twenty years her senior. She lost her father when she was a baby. She remained fixed on the figure of her missing father. Go, and fuck her as her father would have done to her if he dared to do, and if she dared to do what she wanted to do with her missing father." And the moment he gives him that kind of license we hear that something very wonderful happens, a miracle happens, and Alma tells Gropius later that she had a great time with Mahler during his last few months. What I tried to do in that scene, in the meeting between Freud and Mahler, is to go beyond the banalities of psychanalysis. First of all to establish the banal way of dealing with such a meeting, which all the biographers of Freud and of Mahler did, and then saying: Listen, this is the banal version, now let´s go a step further, and see what Freud could have said. And I think that the importance of the meeting is, that Freud could have said to him: "Listen, you are Jewish, you are twenty years her senior, your music is influenced by your origins, your life is influenced by your origins, and go back, and be yourself, and that´s it, and then everything will fall into place." That´s how I see the meeting between the two of them.

Emil Jakob Schindler Alma Mahler Emil Jakob Schindler
Emil Jakob Schindler, Alma's father   Alma Mahler   Emil Jakob Schindler, Alma's father

Paulus Manker
Not only that Freud allowed Mahler to be Alma´s senior father to replace the old Schindler, he also told him that in having made Alma suffering all the time she unconsciously became in his mind the replacement of Mahler´s own mother, too.

Joshua Sobol
That´s right. What he meant was probably: "That young woman, Alma, she is now the age of your mother as you remember her from your childhood. When you were a child your mother was in the age of Alma now. So go and make love to your mother." And, in a way, trespass a certain taboo, the biggest one: incest. And there is something incestuous in that relationship of Mahler and Alma. What Freud was doing, was giving him license for incest. "If there is something wrong in your relationship it´s that she takes you for her father, you take her for your mother, and that´s why you can´t make sex with one another. So now admit that you want to fuck your mother, lets her admit that she wants to be screwed by her father, and go, and have sex with one another, and that´s it." Of course, it´s done in a very humoristic way in the play. I don´t think it is so easy sometimes. But maybe when an authority like Freud tells you: "This is what you want, this is what you wish, go and do it!", you go, and you do it, I don´t know?