One afternoon in November, 1901, as I was walking along the Ring with some friends, I happened to meet the Zuckerkandls. Zuckerkandl, besides being an eminent anatomist, was something of a highbrow and had a great sense of humour.

“We’ve got Mahler coming in tonight – won’t you come?”

I declined. I did not want to meet Mahler. In fact I had purposely and with considerable difficulty avoided meeting him that summer, because of all the stories people told about him.

(Alma Mahler, tr. Basil Creighton, Erinnerungen und Briefe)

Gustav Mahler’s wife was one of the 20th century’s hottest women.

She did compose, you know, and she was not all that bad either. I have a CD of Zemlinsky’s A Florentine Tragedy and tacked on to fill up the disc is a collection of six of her songs presented by the mezzo-soprano Iris Vermillion. The foremost fact ranking the songs in my favour is that Alma wrote them for mezzos, avoiding shrieking excesses by high sopranos, not my favourite category of female vocal performers.

She was really an interesting woman, very intelligent and cultured. It seems she took it very hard when Gustav told her basically, “Hey, it’s all about me, I’m the composer in this family!”

Unfortunately the literature available about her is mostly dealing with her personal life, calling her a femme fatale, among the nicer attributes. She was an intelligent woman and it was intelligent, creative men who found her attractive. What’s wrong with that? The attitude of her husband, unappreciative of her talent, was more the fault of the period in time where “equal rights” was not in fashion.



Arts

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