Thursday, 29 October 2015

Dangerous composer's widow

There is a type of women who project their own frustrated artistic ambitions upon their husbands, driving them to achieve for two and giving their muse the opportunity to glorify in creation-by-proxy. Mahler's wife was such a specimen.

The London Review of Books has published an interesting review of a new biography of Alma Mahler, the wife of the great composer, based upon newly discovered material from the archives: 'Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler' by Oliver Hilmes. Some quotes which may whet the appetite:

Alma recorded in her diary in 1914 that she ‘quivered with joy’ when a friend of hers, a professor of cultural history, remarked that she had led Mahler away from Judaism. ‘That was what I always felt, but I was even happier when I finally heard the word from someone else! I made him brighter. So my presence in his life was a mission accomplished after all!? That alone I always wanted, all my life! To make people brighter.’

We will never know how great a composer she might have been had she continued to work. On the brink of their engagement, in 1901, Mahler wrote her a famous letter in which he insisted that if she wished to marry him she must give up composing: ‘How do you envision such a marriage between two composers? Have you any idea how ridiculous and ultimately degrading in our own eyes such a peculiar rivalry would become? … you must become the person I need if we are to be happy together, my wife and not my colleague – that is for certain!’

Poor Mahler... to have fallen into the trap of this despicable woman. By attempting to suppress her own ambitions, he stoked-up the fires that would burn him.

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