Tom Lehrer (born April 9, 1928) is an American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician. Lehrer's song "Alma" was played as a Valentine tribute during the "Rose pattern three-lobe waltz" at the Skokie Valley Skating Club's biennial Ice Dance Weekend in Wilmette, Illinois.
Lehrer introduced the song as follows:
Last December 13th, there appeared in the newspapers the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary that has ever been my pleasure to read. It was that of a lady name Alma Mahler-Gropius-Werfel who had, in her lifetime, managed to acquire as lovers practically all of the top creative men in central Europe, and, among these lovers, who were listed in the obituary, by the way, which was what made it so interesting, there were three whom she went so far as to marry.
One of the leading composers of the day: Gustav Mahler, composer of "Das Lied von der Erde" and other light classics. One of the leading architects: Walter Gropius of the Bauhaus school of design. And one of the leading writers: Franz Werfel, author of "The Song of Bernadette" and other masterpieces. It's people like that who make you realize how little you've accomplished. It is a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age - he had been dead for two years.
It seemed to me, I'm reading this obituary, that the story of Alma was the stuff of which ballads should be made so here is one.
Obituary to Alma
The New York Times, Sunday, December 13, 1964
Alma M. Werfel: Widow of writer Franz Werfel
She was also married to Mahler and Gropius
Mrs. Alma Mahler Werfel, widow of the writer Franz Werfel and earlier of the composer Gustav Mahler, died Friday in her apartment at 120 East 73d Street. Her age was 85. She had also been married to Walter Gropius, the architect. Mrs. Werfel, who was once described as "The most beautiful girl in Vienna," recalled in her autobiography that she had always been attracted to genius. She noted that she had once confided to her first husband, Mahler, that what she really loved in a man were his achievements. "The greater the achievements," she told the great German composer, "the more I love him." And genius also seemed to have been attracted to Mrs. Werfel.
The former Alma Schindler, the daughter of Emil J. Schindler, a landscape painter in Austria, she grew up in Vienna surrounded by art and artists. Her intellect, which was nurtured by her brilliant father, complimented her beauty.
She was a 21-year-old music student in 1902 when she met Mahler, who was 41 years old and director of the Court Opera House. He had already made his mark in the music world.
After a short courtship they were married. Alma travelled with her husband on conducting tours in Europe and the United States. They had two daughters, but only one, Anna, survived. She became a sculptor.
While still married to the composer, she met Walter Gropius, then a little known architect. She described him in her diary as an "extraordinarily handsome German," and added that the night of their first meeting wore into sunrise. "There remained no doubt," she wrote, "that Walter Gropius was in love with me and expected me to love him."
Mahler found out about their affair, brought the architect to their home and asked Alma to make a choice. She chose to remain with the compooser, but Gropius continued to write love letters to her. She said in her book "And the Bridge is Love," published in 1958, that Mahler read Gropius's correspondence and "wrote beautiful poems about it."
Mahler died in 1911 and his widow returned to Vienna to live with her parents. One day her father told her of "a poor starving genius" who painted. Later he brought Oskar Kokoschka home to paint her picture. She wrote that after he had finished sketching her he stood up, embraced her and walked out. He then started sending love letters and they became lovers. The affair lasted three years until Kokoschka joined the German Army. Shortly afterward Alma began corresponding with Gropius, who had become successful, and they were married in August 1915. They had a daughter, Manon, who died in her teens.
While still married to Gropius she met Franz Werfel and had a son by him. The child died in infancy. Gropius and Alma finally agreed to divorce in 1918. She then moved in with Werfel, and they were married in July, 1929. She also wrote in her diary that she was pursued by other geniuses. The following was dated 1926 and referred to a conversation she had with Gerhart Hauptmann, the German drammatist and poet: " 'It's a pity,'he said to me, 'that the two of us don't have a child together. That would have been something You, you my great love....' " 'In another life,' he once told me, 'we two must be lovers. I make my reservation now.' "His wife heard it. 'I'm sure Alma will be booked up there too.' she said flippantly. "He and I only smiled...." She also wrote that other great men who were in love with her were Dr. Paul Kammerer, the biologist, and Ossip Gabrilowitsch, the Russian pianist and conductor who later married Mark Twain's daughter.
Werfel and Alma fled Nazi Germany in the late nineteen-thirties. Their experiences prompting Franz to write "The Song of Bernadette" and "Jacobowsky and the Colonel." They came to the United States in 1940 and settled in California, where Werfel died in 1945. She moved to New York in 1952.
Besides "And the Bridge is Love," Mrs. Werfel wrote "Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters."