Alma Mahler

by wagnerv

Alma Mahler.  It was mentioned in class the other day that she would make a good “blog post,” so I decided to look her up. Oh my goodness! Her life could be a soap opera. Alma was musically talented and had composed at least seventeen pieces, (including many lieder and some instrumental pieces) fourteen of which were published during her lifetime. While it’s neat that she was a woman composer, that’s not what makes her so interesting. Rather, it’s her extensive romantic life. She was married to not just one, but several famous men: a composer(Gustav Mahler), an architect (Walter Gropius), and a novelist(Franz Werfel)  and was supposedly “involved” with several other prominent men.

First, as was mentioned in class, she was the wife of Gustav Mahler, who was nineteen years older than she was. They had two daughters, but the first died from sickness when she was five years old. A term of Alma’s marriage with Gustav was that she would stop composing. However, after her daughter died, Alma suffered from depression and began an affair with Walter Gropius. When Mahler discovered the affair, he regretted his early stifling of Alma’s music and then helped her compose and publish five pieces. Several years later, Gustav died of an infection related to a heart defect.

After Mahler’s death, Alma had an affair with artist Oskar Kokoschka (she inspired several of his famous works). They separated though when Kokoschka enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I. Alma then resumed contact with Walter Gropius (her previous affair), who was also serving in the military. They got married during one of his leaves and had a daughter who died of polio at eighteen and a son – who actually wasn’t Gropius’s son at all! He was a product of Alma’s  affair with Franz Werfel. When Gropius (who was often away due to his military duties) found out about Alma’s affair, the two divorced and Alma’s son, who had been born prematurely, died before he was a year old.

Several years later, Alma married Werfel. Werfel was Jewish though, and this was during the years just before WWI. The two were forced to leave their home in Austria for France, but then they had to flee France when the Germans started invading. Eventually they came to the United States and settled in Los Angeles. Werfel died of a heart attack there in 1945.

After the death of her third husband, Alma became a U.S. citizen and moved to NYC, where she lived until her death in 1964.

Here’s a little song that gives you a run-through of Alma’s romantic life.