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August 26th, 1910. Gustav Mahler and Sigmund Freud in spa Leyden in Holland.

FREUD   How much time do we have?

MAHLER   Enough. Four hours.

FREUD   Excuse me. Did you say four hours? Four hours?!

MAHLER   My train to Munich leaves at 8 p.m.

FREUD   But my dear Director Mahler! You must be joking! My dear friend!

MAHLER   I've got to be in Munich tomorrow morning. I have a rehearsal.

FREUD   Then I have to ask you to go now! You're wasting your time, and mine.

MAHLER   Professor Freud -

FREUD   My dear friend, what did you have in mind? Four hours?! This is absurd! It's impudence! There's no precedent for it in the entire history of psychoanalysis. I can't believe it. Four hours! Adieu!

MAHLER   No! Don't turn me down! This is a death sentence! Worse: it's an execution.

FREUD   I don't know what you know about psychoanalysis, if you think...

MAHLER   Almost nothing.

FREUD   Aaahh! And why then did you come to me at all? All the way to Holland? With only four hours you'd be better off finding comfort on some other kind of couch. Get thee to a brothel! It's less risky and will bring you guaranteed relief. I'm sure my young disciple Jung could give you some youthful addresses - I mean useful addresses. He knows The »Lay Down in Leyden«!

MAHLER   This isn't a joke. My condition is very serious.

FREUD   I can very well believe it! A man in your situation, at your age! It was hopeless and disastrous from the outset! You were simply looking for trouble, and now you've had it!

MAHLER   She loves me.

FREUD   What the hell do you mean by “love”?

MAHLER   Love. The moment I can't say the word anymore, I'll be dead. It's the only thing that makes me feel alive..

FREUD   She loves you, does she? She certainly furnished you with the best proof.

MAHLER   Yes, she did.

FREUD   By betraying you with that Gropius!

MAHLER   No, it happened after she'd sent him away. It was when I …

FREUD   Is there something you would like to tell me?

MAHLER   I don't know. It is so … It was … so shameful! I don't know if I can put it in words. It's very hard for me.

FREUD   That's a good reason for trying.

MAHLER   But how shall I … I mean … You must know what I mean! It was … I … I couldn't … She … she … It was … Ahhhh! C'est impuissible! Merde! I can't !

FREUD   You had a problem? - A potency/tial problem?


FREUD   Tell me. How did it happen?

MAHLER   Are the details that important?

FREUD   My dear friend, the devil dwells in the details, and so does the truth.

MAHLER   Yes, yes, I know.

FREUD   If you want me to help you, then you must trust me. You must lead me into the dense forest of details. Take me where it's darkest. Tell me in minute detail, what it was like.

MAHLER   Immediately after the first shock I spoke with Alma. I told her to make her choice. I left her in the living room with her lover, and went up to my study to wait for her verdict.

FREUD   What did you do while waiting?

MAHLER   I read the bible.

FREUD   The Old or the New Testament?

MAHLER   The Old Testament, of course.

FREUD   »Of course«! Of course. Of course. - Go on.

MAHLER   For an eternity, nothing happened at all. They stayed down there for a while, in my house, and I was upstairs. I had placed myself entirely in her hands. Then she called me down. She had said goodbye to Gropius and decided never to see him ever again. I accompanied him to the garden gate. We shook hands, without any enmity, and he disappeared into the darkness. When I returned to the house, we fell into each other's arms, with a fervent passion I had never experienced before. We cried like little children. With no inhibitions. She kissed my tears, and asked me to let her sleep in a separate room that night. I begged her to leave the door open, I at least wanted to hear her breathe. She indulged me, . And I must admit, I spent hours in front of her door, lying on the carpet, near the threshold of her room. I was like a demented man. I was out of my mind. It went on like this for days. Then one night she allowed me to come to her bed. It was indescribable. I lay beside her, and she whispered into my ear: »I love your spirit, I love it more than anything, but your body feels awkward to me, so strange, so remote. Still - I want to belong to you. Only to you. Possess me if you can and purge his memory from my flesh .« But I... I … I … I …

FREUD   Oi oi oi oi oi!! Enough, enough, enough, enough!

MAHLER   I'm afraid I'm going out of my mind. Why did she do this to me? What did I do to deserve it? I was so consumed with love, that I feared nothing! And all of a sudden such a shmuck! I mean such a shock! It was as if the ground had disappeared from beneath my feet. When did this false existence begin? Was it in my childhood? In Bohemia? Who is to blame for it? Can I still correct it? On my way here I wrote: »Oh Death, divine thought in painful hours! Oh Life, be born again from all my wounds!«

FREUD   Your music. Speak to me about it.

MAHLER   What should I talk about ?

FREUD   Your first piece.

MAHLER   It was a Polka. I was 6 years old. It had a funeral march for an introduction.

FREUD   A funeral march?

MAHLER   Yes. A »Zalozpev«. My first language was Bohemian. A Zalozpev is a kind of a lamentation, , almost a moan. The instruments should give the impression of moaning or sobbing like my mother used to.

FREUD   Like your mother used to?

MAHLER   She's suffered a lot.

FREUD   Your father…?

MAHLER   Yes. Yes. He was violent and brutal. But he was the first one to notice my talent for music. He encouraged me to play.

FREUD   At what age?

MAHLER   Three. I played the accordion. I was four when it happened. A military parade was playing on the street, early in the morning. I was electrified, ran out of the house, following the band with my little accordion. Like a little drum-major, I marched behind them and played along with all the pieces by ear.

FREUD   Why are you laughing ?

MAHLER   I couldn't help remembering that later, I kept listening to these military bands. I was completely obsessed with them. Once I was so absorbed, that I forgot myself and I shat in my pants. I think I didn't even feel ashamed about it. And once in the synagogue when the cantor was singing, I suddenly jumped up, and shouted: »Stop it! Stop it! Be quiet ! This is not music!«

FREUD   And you were punished?

MAHLER   No, no. Who would punish me?

FREUD   Your father.

MAHLER   Oh, no! He would only punish me for reading books or playing games with other children instead of practicing the piano, but when it came to my own music he wouldn't even touch me with his little finger. Everything in the family revolved around my music. I could even chase away my father when I was playing for myself. And he would leave, without arguing. Otto was the only one I let listen when I played.

FREUD   Who is Otto?

MAHLER   My brother. My poor, dead, little brother Otto. I let him stay and listen. If he polished my shoes and brushed my clothes in return.

FREUD   So music gave you power as a child?

MAHLER   You could certainly say so. Yes. And attention. And fame and glory!

FREUD   This bitter substitute for love...

MAHLER   I'm sorry. I didn't get that.

FREUD   Nothing. I was just thinking out loud.

MAHLER   Did you say: »A bitter substitute for love?«

FREUD   Well … What else is glory?

MAHLER   I know what you are getting at, Doctor. You mean, I only got Alma's attention because I was director of the Royal Opera House, don't you? And that I mesmerized her? And that she has been attached all these years only to my glory, which for her has been a bitter substitute for love?! That's what you are driving at, isn't it? She must have suffered bitterly all these years of our married life.

FREUD   I don't know. Maybe this way she became a bitter substitute for your mother, who had also been suffering in silence all the years of her married life, swallowing the stifled cries that your tyrannical father forbade her to express. So she kept moaning and sobbing secretly. Clandestinely. In silence. She cried noiselessly and sobbed inaudibly, so no one would notice. And she invested all her hopes in the budding existence of her beloved son, who would one day let the trumpets blow, and give full expression to her suppressed moaning and sobbing. With his music. In one, many-voiced, unmistakeable cry. What was your mother's name? Marie?

MAHLER   Yes … it was indeed.

FREUD   How come you've married an Alma then? It's surprising. What's your wife's middle name?

MAHLER   Her middle name? Maria.

FREUD   Aha! What was Al - mama - ria doing when you met her?

MAHLER   Nothing. What young girls tend to do. Reading books, playing the piano; she composed a few songs too, I think …

FREUD   Strange. She never made a name as a composer.

MAHLER   No, I … I had to forbid her to compose. I made it a condition of our marriage.

FREUD   You know what you have done to her?

MAHLER   I can imagine.

FREUD   I'll tell you something: she chose not to grow. It's obvious! By accepting your condition, she regressed to childhood. I used to know Alma's father, the painter Schindler -- you probably know his work. He died when she was only a child. She had loved her father very much. Ever since his death she's been looking for a father-substitute. Your advanced age, my dear Director Mahler, which makes you so afraid of losing her, is exactly what attracts your wife to you. Go back to her, take her in your arms, embrace her, hold her tight, and give her all the love that you swore to give your poor mother whenever she was maltreated by your father. You will make her the happiest woman on earth! - What makes you cry now?

MAHLER   I remember all of a sudden an obscenely painful scene between my parents, in our kitchen. A terrible scene, much worse than everything that went before it. My father beat my mother, he flogged her like a dog. I couldn't stand it. I rushed out from the house. Aimless. Purposeless. I didn't know where to go. At that moment, I saw a hurdy-gurdy player in the street. He was playing »Oh, du lieber Augustin« on his hurdy-gurdy. It's a scene I will never forget. You know that popular Viennese song. The barrel-organ player looked at me smiling with his bright and friendly eyes, while a small monkey in uniform sat on top of the hurdy-gurdy collecting money in a can. The monkey's face appeared to me quite different from that of the hurdy-gurdy man. At least I thought so. It appeared to be mocking me, grinning at me, scornful and snarling, while its master continued cheerfully doffing his hat and playing this song »O, du lieber Augustin, Augustin, Augustin, O du lieber Augustin, alles ist hin!« - I've never been able to get it out of my mind. It's like a curse to me. I'm sure that's the moment when high tragedy and light amusement were forever joined together in my mind, so much so, that for me one mood inevitably suggests the other. That's why the noblest passages in my symphonies are always spoiled by the intrusion of commonplace melodies, and whenever I try to overcome …

FREUD   Come on! Gustav! Gustav! Give me a break! Again with this arrogance, this egotism. That has nothing to do with your parents' quarrels, or with a snarling monkey, or with a song called »Lieber Augustin«. That explosive mixture of the sublime and the grotesque flows in your veins, your Jewish veins! You know why? Because God is crazy. He is meschugge. And we know that. He needs a good analysis. A profound, thorough psychoanalysis. And a long and careful treatment. But he won't lie down on the couch! He simply won't do it! - Come on, Gustav, let's take a walk in the beautiful Dutch streets of Leyden. I want to show you something. And then we'll exchange some good old Jewish jokes, ehh? Do you know this one: Sara Goldstein goes to her husband's funeral, and suddenly the rabbi says to her...

MAHLER   I'm not so fond of jokes.

FREUD   You know what your problem is, Gustav? You take things too damn seriously. All that's happened to you is that your young wife betrayed you with a 27 year old stinking prick of an architect. So what?! Nebbich! What's the big deal? It could have been worse!

MAHLER   Worse? How?!

FREUD   If you betrayed her with the architect! By the way, I'm afraid he actually is in love with you, and not with your wife, that Gropius. Or else why would he make his declaration of love to you?

MAHLER   It was a mix-up.

FREUD   Ah… Who knows, who knows?

MAHLER   I tell you: he's in love with her. I've got evidence.

FREUD   Believe me, Gustav, if it were my wife, I wouldn't even bother about it.

MAHLER   Sigi, if it were your wife, I wouldn't bother either.

FREUD   Listen: a wife is like an umbrella: sooner or later you have to take a cab.

MAHLER   What can I say? I open my eyes in the morning and I'm in pain all over.

FREUD   But that's normal! That's only because you spend whole nights on the carpet at her door! - He's in pain…! That's excellent!

MAHLER   What's so excellent about it?

FREUD   Gustav, when you're over fifty, and you wake up in the morning, and you don't feel any pain - you can be sure you're dead.

MAHLER   I wish I were.

FREUD   Don't worry. It will happen soon enough. You too, you're not immortal.

MAHLER   That's all I need to hear. What a relief! Thank you.

FREUD   Gustav, look: it's so difficult to die - it's better to live!

MAHLER   How do you know? Have you experienced it already?

FREUD   No, no. And I'm not in a hurry either. Believe me: experience consists mainly of experiencing what we'd prefer not to experience.
A funeral march can be heard from outside.

MAHLER   What's that?

FREUD   A funeral.

MAHLER   A patient of yours?

FREUD   No, no. A very famous conductor from Vienna. - You know him.