The Polydrama
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MAHLER   My dearest Alma, my soul, my life! I'm coming to you with a somewhat heavy heart today for I know I have to hurt you and yet I can't do otherwise.

ALMA   What is it, Gustav?

MAHLER   Before I say anything, let me ask you this: what do you expect of our relationship?

ALMA   What am I to expect? ? I want to be what you want me to become, what you need.

MAHLER   What else?

ALMA   I'm sure that you want me - and that you will help me - to develop my personality.

MAHLER   What do you understand by “personality”? Do you already consider yourself a personality?

ALMA   Of course.

MAHLER   That is?

ALMA   I'm a composer, you see. I want to express myself through my music. My best friends encouraged me to follow my calling as a composer: Max Burckhard, the director of the Burgtheater, Alex Zemlinsky, my music teacher …

MAHLER   They did, did they!

ALMA   Yes! They are convinced I should pursue my career. Burckhard brought me closer to Nietzsche, he believes in me as an individual, and Zemlinsky finds my music superior, and - well - extremely interesting.

MAHLER   Alma, you are the sweetest and most attractive young creature that I've ever met. But the sort of personality you have in mind, you can only acquire after long experience of struggle and suffering, and as a result of a deeply rooted dispositions. Such a personality is rare. You are too young and inexperienced, Almschi, to already be the sort of person who's found a rational basis for her existence everything inside you is still… unformed, unexpressed, and undeveloped.

ALMA   What am I to you then? Nothing but a toy?!

MAHLER   No. Of course not. What you are to me, what you could perhaps become for me - is the dearest and most sublime object of my life. The loyal and courageous companion who understands and supports me, my stronghold invulnerable to enemies from within and without, my peace, my heaven in which I can constantly immerse myself, find myself again, and rebuild myself - what it is that you can be to me is so unutterably exalted and beautiful, so much, and so great, in a word: my wife.

ALMA   I do want to be your wife! I don't see any contradiction in that.

MAHLER   If you honestly want to be my wife, you have to forget all those Burckhards, Zemlinskys, or whatever their names are . Forget what they told you. Those people know nothing about true personality. Because they are not personalities themselves. Each one of them has his own peculiarity: an eccentric address, illegible handwriting or some other quirk, and they defend these traits to their last breath to avoid becoming superficial. But they have no soul. These sort of people are full of contempt, and their hearts are burned to ashes. That's why they hang on to you, to your youth, your energy. They just want to be refreshed by it. They flatter and mislead you, only to destroy you in the end.

ALMA   But they love my music!

MAHLER   Don't believe a word they say to you.

ALMA   Why not?

MAHLER   Because you are beautiful, Alma. You're very beautiful and very attractive to men. That makes them flatter you for anything you do. Just imagine if you were ugly. What would they say? You've become - and however harsh it may sound - you've become what these people think they see in you and wish to see in you.

ALMA   You don't believe in my music?

MAHLER   I'll come to your music in a minute.

ALMA   We may have different ideas, we don't have to agree on everything.

MAHLER   Ideas? By no means! My Alma-child, we should agree on the love in our hearts, but what does that have to do with ideas? Alma, what are your ideas? Schopenhauer's chapter on women, the whole deceitful and viciously shameless immorality of Nietzsche' idea of a Master-race, the turbid meanderings of Maeterlinck's drunken mind which you had the temerity to set to music? These are not your ideas, thank God!

ALMA   Maybe we shouldn't live together.

MAHLER   What do you mean by that?

ALMA   I mean we could rent separate flats, and see one another whenever we wanted . We don't even have to marry. We can be lovers, and friends.

MAHLER   Alma, I'm not talking about »renting flats«. I'm talking about living together our whole life.

ALMA   But what if I want to write?

MAHLER   Write? Write what?

ALMA   My music. I want to write music too: songs, operas, symphonies. It's all in my head already. Chamber music, oratories... And you'll certainly want to go on writing yours, won't you? we can't do it all at the same time, can we? So I think we should have separate flats, so that when I want to compose I can go to my flat, and…

MAHLER   Excuse me, please, excuse me, but it's absolutely imperative that we understand one another clearly now, before we say another word. I am sorry, but I have to defend my music from you. You have enough courage to set your music against mine, but the fact of the matter is that you don't really know my music, and in any case you don't yet understand it, you're not capable of comprehending it yet! You won't think me vain, will you, Alma, but how do you picture the married life of a husband and wife who are both composers? Can you imagine a household of two composers? Have you any idea how ridiculous and degrading for both of us such a peculiarly competitive relationship would inevitably become? I experienced this kind of thing before, first-hand, with my brother. And he's dead, Alma! He's dead. I want you to be my wife, not my colleague!

ALMA   You're not asking me to give up my music?

MAHLER   I Most certainly am. That's exactly what I'm asking you to do. What would happen if you were attending to your household duties or taking care of something I needed, and you just happened to be “in the mood” and decided you would rather compose? Please don't misunderstand me and start imagining that I think of my wife only as a diversion; on the contrary. I'll prove it to you: let me ask you this: would it be possible for you, from now on, to regard my music as yours? - I will come back to your music later. - I'll repeat my question: would it be possible for you to regard my music as yours?

ALMA   Consider your music as if it were mine?!

MAHLER   Yes. I have to know.

ALMA   But my music is so different from yours. How can you compare…

MAHLER   Yes or no?

ALMA   But… Do you actually know what you're demanding of me? You ask me to give up the thing that brings me my greatest pleasure and happiness. When you demand that I give up my work, you're demanding that I give up my self/soul.

MAHLER   Your »work«? What sort of work is that? Composing? For your own pleasure or to enrich the heritage of Mankind?! From now on you will have a true profession:: to make me happy.

ALMA   And what about my happiness?

MAHLER   That will be my job. . I'll make you happy. I promise. I'm quite aware that in order to make me happy you have to be happy too.

ALMA   So who should start first to make the other one happy?

MAHLER   This is not a joke, Alma.

ALMA   You are asking a great deal.

MAHLER   Yes, I'm asking a great deal, a very great deal - and I do so because I know what I have to give and will give in exchange.

ALMA   I don't know if I can do it. Whether I'm strong enough, you know. I'm... my heart has stopped beating. I feel as if, you've ripped my heart from my chest. Give up my music? Give away the thing I've ve always lived for? I'm bewildered. I need to think it over. - Why can't the two of us just live happily together?

MAHLER   “Live happily together”? Alma! I don't want our relationship to degenerate into a passing flirtation. Before we talk to each other again, things must be absolutely clear between us. You've got to know what I desire and expect from you, what I can offer you, and what I need you to be to me. Therefore be absolutely merciless in trusting me with everything you have to say to me. It would be better to separate now than to go on deluding ourselves. I know myself. It would end up a catastrophe for both of us. - Now, think it all over carefully, and give me your verdict tomorrow.