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Vienna, 1901. Alma and Max Burckhard, director of the Vienna State Theater.

BURCKHARD   Alma! What's the matter with you? Did I do something wrong? Alma, stay here! Did I say something that hurt you? ... Alma!! Hold it! Why are you so angry with me all of a sudden?, Remember, Alma! Remember yesterday, won't you! Please, Alma! Have you forgotten already? Nietzsche! Schopenhauer! Yesterday everything was fine, so good between the two of us, and now, all of a sudden...? Please don't run away, Alma! ... At least say something! What did I do to deserve this. How could you change so brutally? Alma, how can I possibly understand it if you don't speak to me? What deadly sin have I committed?

ALMA   My poor Max...

BURCKHARD   »My poor Max!« Is that supposed to console me? For what? Being poor? I know I'm poor. In every sense of the word. You've always made it a point to remind me how unimportant I was, how little I have. I am director of the Vienna State Theatre and I'm an unsightly...

ALMA   Don't be ridiculous!

BURCKHARD   And to top it all off, now I'm ridiculous. - I am! You said it! You can't take it back, it doesn't make it any easier for me.

ALMA   We've been such good friends! Let's leave it at that.

BURCKHARD   Good friends?! Come on, are you joking, Alma? We're birds of a feather! Please don't forget that! I've kept no secrets and neither have you! Not a thing. ! I've touched you ...

ALMA   With your mind, Max. Only with your mind.

BURCKHARD   "Only" with my mind? "Only" that?! That's the most intimate thing there is, Alma! Far more intimate than the way Zemlinsky continually pesters you with his bestial advances! You shouldn't let yourself be soiled!

ALMA   Don't be vulgar!

BURCKHARD   Alma, I know I'm not Socrates -

ALMA   Stop it, Max!

BURCKHARD   Yes, you've said it to me many times.

ALMA   I was joking.

BURCKHARD   No, you weren't. You weren't joking at all! I know what your admirers say about me, I'm not under any illusions. I know what your friends tell you. It's true, it's all true -

ALMA   External appearances have never interested me.

BURCKHARD   Oh but they do, my dear, in fact they interest you a great deal! I know you well enough by now to be aware of that. Charm, fame, talent... I have none of all these.

ALMA   That isn't true. You have knowledge, and you know it well.

BURCKHARD   I'm not sure of that either any more.

ALMA   Do you really need to hear compliments? You do have knowledge, Max. Let me assure you of that. And you've got a fantastic mind! You might even be a genius ...?!

BURCKHARD   I might be? I might be a genius? Now stop that! You're killing me with your compliments. Of course I'm not a genius. If you believed I were one, you wouldn't have given up on me. But you have given up on me, haven't you? Alma! I want to shape you, you see?! I want to form you! - Don't leave me! I need you. - Don't let me beg like a little child. Do you really have so much to give that others always have to beg? - Well fine, I have nothing. I have to beg!

ALMA   Stop it! Stop it right now!! I can't bear it! Do you understand me?! Stop humiliating yourself right now. I can't stand it. You must never, do you hear, never humiliate yourself in front of me. You should never, never, never beg for my love!

BURCKHARD   If you don't give it to me -

ALMA   That is the most deadly killer of love, don't you understand that? “If someone asks for help, you shouldn't give it to them. Because that means they aren't worthy of it!” You taught me that yourself, Max! If a man asks me for something - if he begs for it - then to me, he's dead.

BURCKHARD   So? Am I now dead to you?

ALMA   You are doing all you can to make it easier for me.

BURCKHARD   To make WHAT easier?! To make WHAT easier?! Is there anybody... ?

ALMA   I have an awful dilemma.

BURCKHARD   So there is someone.

ALMA   My Max... my wonderful Max…!

BURCKHARD   Who is it?

ALMA   Please, Max…!

BURCKHARD   Who is it?!! At least I tell his name!

ALMA   It's Alex.

BURCKHARD   Zemlinsky? Why Zemlinsky? you've got him already?!

ALMA   No, you idiot! I'm experimenting.


ALMA   No, I'm just experimenting with myself: I whisper »My love«, and it's always Zemlinsky's name that comes first.

BURCKHARD   And whose name comes second, hmm? Whose name comes second?!!

BURCKHARD   I can almost smell him on you! What has he got that I haven't? Is he younger than me? Better-looking? Richer? I thought you didn't attach any importance to external appearances? - Ah! Is it Dr. Muhr with his sacks of money?

ALMA   No. It's not Dr. Muhr.

BURCKHARD   Who is it then, hmm? - I know you, Alma. You can't fool me , you horny little bitch. You want to sparkle like a star in the Viennese sky . The most beautiful, brightest star in the firmament. The evening star. And for that you need a man who is handsome, rich and respectable. I can't offer you any of that. It's true. And you don't need love, do you? And that's all I could give you. - What are you laughing at?!

ALMA   »A handsome Man!« Oh, God... If you only knew !

BURCKHARD   So he isn't handsome? Then he must be very rich.

ALMA   He isn't rich either.

BURCKHARD   Then he must be famous.

ALMA   Max, stop it. You're only making things worse.

BURCKHARD   Is he famous? World famous?

ALMA   Not yet.

BURCKHARD   Ahhh! - Who is it?

ALMA   It's… (indistinctly) Gstmllln...


ALMA   (She can't bring herself to pronounce the name properly:) ' Sssmalla.

BURCKHARD   Stop this nonsense. Who is the man?

ALMA   I told you. Now leave me alone !

BURCKHARD   Don't make me crazy! (imitates her:) «Sssmalla» Who's that supposed to be? - I want to know , God dammed! - Spell it out for me!

ALMA   Max! Stop it. You're getting on my nerves. Stop torturing me.

BURCKHARD   I'm torturing you?! You're torturing me! Who is this man? I want to know who it is! God dammed!!!

ALMA   (shows him a photograph of Gustav Mahler:) It's…

BURCKHARD   What? What?! - No! No, you're kidding! It can't be... You don't mean... Gustav Mahler? That old fart?!

ALMA   You would have to say that.

BURCKHARD   Oh my God! He could be your grandfather!

ALMA   He's forty-two. So what?

BURCKHARD   Forty-two?! That's twenty years older than you!

ALMA   He loves me.

BURCKHARD   He loves you? That old, wrinkled, dried-up herring, that haemorrhoidal ape? Terminally ill, debt-ridden and impotent? Eats nothing but wholegrain bread and fruit, and that's exactly how he composes, too!

ALMA   Alright, he's not a Beethoven, but he has some talent...

BURCKHARD   »Not a Beethoven«?! Tell me, are you out of your mind ?! He's a Jew! A Jew, Alma! Even though he's converted. You can't wash away a thing like that with a little holy water! A Jew can never become a true artist..!

ALMA   That's not true. His Lieder -

BURCKHARD   His Lieder?! What do you know about them ?

ALMA   He sent them to me.

BURCKHARD   Oh, so it's come to that has it. ! His diet music! With the irresistible charm of apple pie! It never fails to work - as a laxative! Spare me!

ALMA   Calm down, I'm not saying I'm enthusiastic about his work. But some of his Lieder…

BURCKHARD   Stop it, will you! ! As a composer he is a nothing , and you know it! It's all pretension, posing and posturing! Alma! How can you? You are so intelligent, you have such refined taste. Your own music is far superior to anything this pretender has composed! Alma, in 22 years you've composed better things than Gustav Mahler will cobble together in 200 years. Any one of your Lieder reveals more musical talent than all of his symphonies combined!

ALMA   It isn't his music at all. His music leaves me cold, do you understand? It doesn't touch my senses, but… but him! Him! It's him that fascinates me. Only him. That's it. Nothing else. It's... I don't know how to say…

BURCKHARD   Yes, yes, sure, I know. The “inexpressible”, that »certain something«! That »je ne sais quoi«! - And his position as Director of the Royal Opera. Don't cheat yourself, Alma. You little monkey! All you want to do is sit on the hurdy-gurdy, all dressed up, with a little red cap, a bowl of money in your hand, and Mr Mahler grinding the organ! While all of Vienna dances to your tune! But not with me! Not with me!!

Suddenly Burckhard throws himself at Alma, trying to embrace and kiss her:

BURCKHARD   Alma... Alma! Come here, come to me!

ALMA   Stop it! Stop it, Max! Are you crazy?! Don't you dare touch me! Leave me... alone ! Max…! Go away!! Go... away!!! (she pushes him away and spits out) Urrgh! If only I'd met him just three years earlier, my mind would never have been tainted by yours. !

BURCKHARD   Now I understand you , Alma. I've figured you out. At last. It took me a long time. Your boundless vanity, your craving for pleasure, your ridiculous fantasies! You're dead! You're lost...!

ALMA   Quite the contrary, my dear. You can keep your advice to yourself in future. I won't need it any more. I'll love this man, my whole life . I will take care of him. I will compose. And I will even conduct! This man is pure oxygen for me! You can catch fire if you step too close to him!

BURCKHARD   And me? What about me? What have I been for you?

ALMA   Sulphur. It burns too, but it's stinkier.

BURCKHARD   Well, then, get out of my sight! Fuck yourself to fame and glory! That's the only thing you were born for!

ALMA   That's not for you to judge, thank God.

BURCKHARD   Adieu ma vie, adieu mon coeur, adieu mon espérance! - Go to your old Jewish goat! Go to your Gustav. Become the most important woman in Vienna! Enjoy it! When you're fed up with the wet lips of your old prune, join us for a drink. You're always welcome. - I'm going to drown my sorrows in alcohol , and break the news to our friends. Adieu Alma!