The most beautiful girl in Vienna (1879
Alma was born in Vienna on 31 August 1879, daughter of landscape
painter Emil Jakob Schindler and Hamburg singer Anna Sofie
Finances in the Schindler household were very tight, and
the family had to share their apartment with Schindler's artist
colleague, Julius Victor Berger, with whom Alma's mother soon
began an affair, and from which Alma's half-sister Grete was
born in 1881. In the same year, Schindler was awarded a prominent
art prize, which ended the family's financial misery and enabled
them to move to Schloss Plankenberg near Tulln. As
a result of a commission from Crown Prince Rudolf in 1887
to paint the coastal localities of Dalmatia, Schindler became
one of the most important artists of the Habsburg Monarchy.
The family in the garden of Schloss
(right, the parents; left, Alma and painter Carl Moll)
Alma and Grete,
Alma would keep her father company for hours in his studio.
She idolized him, while he promoted her talent for music and
her interest in literature, and even introduced Goethe's Faust
to her while she was still a child. Alma's mother soon began
an affair with Carl Moll, her husband's student and assistant;
the relationship lasted several years and remained concealed
from Alma's father. Schindler died on 9 August 1892 on the
North Sea island of Sylt from the after-effects of an appendix
infection. At the time, Alma was only 13. Her mother subsequently
married Carl Moll, which Alma experienced as an unforgivable
betrayal of her father.
Alma aged 9,
in around 1888
Alma (left) with her mother Anna Schindler-Moll
and half-sister Grete (right), 1893
In April 1897, the "Vereinigung bildender Künstler
Österreichs Sezession" (Association of Austrian
Fine Arts Secession) was founded in Vienna. Gustav Klimt was
elected President, and Carl Moll became Vice-President. The
Association's members - Joseph Maria Olbrich, architect of
the Secession building, architect Josef Hoffmann, Koloman
Moser and Alfred Roller - were frequent visitors to his house.
When she was just an adolescent, Alma was already allowed
to join in the communal evening meals, and as a young beauty
for the first time enjoyed the attention of famous men.
At these frequent gatherings, Klimt's attention was drawn
to Moll's 17-year-old stepdaughter Alma; he appreciated this
very pretty and intelligent girl. For her part, Alma was attracted
to the eminent artist, who was notorious for his lechery and
seduction, and fell in love with him. In her diary, her romantic
rhapsodies evolved into her first sexual experience:
Alma (left) and her family, 1899,
at the Venice Lido. Right: Klimt
"Gustav Klimt entered my life as my first great love,
but I was an innocent child, totally absorbed in my music
and far removed from life in the real world. The more I suffered
from this love, the more I sank into my own music, and so
my unhappiness became a source of my greatest bliss."
Klimt pursued Alma as far as Italy during a holiday trip.
They met secretly, and Alma was willing to swear eternal faithfulness
to him. It was on this trip that Klimt stole a first kiss
from Alma, the discovery of which led to a serious rift with
Carl Moll. Moll discovered the scandalous flirtation and forced
Klimt to leave and promise to keep away from Alma in future.
Max Burckhard too was often a guest in the Moll household.
Until 1898, he was Director of the Viennese Burgtheater,
earning particular acclaim in connection with the ultivation
of modern drama, putting on Ibsen, Hauptmann, Schnitzler and
Hofmannsthal. He promoted Alma's nascent interest in literature,
sent her theatre tickets, and brought her books of classic
and modern literature in linen baskets. However, as an anti-Semite,
he also indoctrinated her with anti-Semitism. In particular,
Nietzsche's philosophy drew them together as kindred spirits.
Nietzsche's sentence, "Whoever falls, should also be
given a push!" became Alma's guiding motto, from which
later many of her unsuccessful admirers were to suffer.
|Above: Alma aged 19
Right: Burgtheater Director Max Burckhard
Alma was tutored in composition by blind organist Josef Labor,
and soon created an extensive repertoire for herself. Schubert
and Schumann were among her favourite composers, but most
of all she adored the music of Richard Wagner; "I
am more endeared to him than anyone else on earth - I swear!"
Alma also began composing herself, and played Lieder
and piano pieces to her teacher, which were lyrical improvisations
and soliloquies. Her style of composing was intimate, like
the text of a diary.
Alexander von Zemlinsky
In the spring of 1900, 20-year-old Alma met composer Alexander
von Zemlinsky, who was considered one of the most promising
figures on the Viennese music scene. Aghast, she noted the
following in her diary: "A caricature - chinless,
small, with bulging eyes and a maniacal way of conducting,
yet he pleased me exceptionally." Alma and Zemlinsky
spent a long time talking about Wagner, in particular Tristan.
When Alma revealed to him that this was her favourite opera,
Zemlinsky was so pleased that, according to her words, he
became unrecognizable. "I like him very much - very
When Zemlinsky had seen some of her compositions, his assessment
was crystal-clear: "Either you compose or you spend
your time in society - one of the two. But better to choose
what suits you better - spend your time in society."
Zemlinsky was an incomparable tutor; he was also Arnold Schönberg's
teacher and soon became his friend. Alma now took composition
lessons from Zemlinsky. Under his guidance, she composed a
series of Lieder after poems of Rainer Maria Rilke,
Heinrich Heine and others.
A stormy love affair soon developed between Alma, an attractive
and self-confident young woman, and the introverted Zemlinsky.
She loved the "small, ugly gnome" and Zemlinsky
returned these feelings: "I want you - with every
atom of my feeling". Alma allowed herself to be kissed
and caressed by him and allowed him every intimacy except
the ultimate - thereby almost robbing him of his reason. He,
for his part, understood how to awaken Alma's burgeoning sexuality
with a passion, which meant she could never forget his "virtuoso
hands". The relationship was a roller coaster of
feelings, humiliations and torment on the part of Alma, mixed
with passionate declarations of love and bizarre diary entries:
"Alex - my Alex. I want to be your baptismal font.
Pour your abundance into me!"
However, family and friends found the liaison with the Jewish
Zemlinsky extremely unsuitable - and soon Zemlinsky too had
"You stress as often as you possibly can how ridiculously
insignificant I am and how little I have, how much makes me
unsuitable to belong to you! Have you got so much to give,
such an infinite amount, that other beggars object?! You are
very beautiful, and I know how much I appreciate such beauty.
But what about later, in 20 years' time???"
Alma tortured Zemlinsky for two years, until in 1902,
she decided against him and in favour of a bold step which
constituted a sensation for the Vienna of the day ....
> next: Life
with Gustav Mahler (1901 - 1911)