THE DIARIES by Alma Mahler-Werfel


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Alma Mahler-Werfel had a knack with men. She married Gustav Mahler, Walter Gropius, and Franz Mahler; and she had liaisons with many more similarly famous artists. Born into the most sophisticated and forward-looking artistic circles of old Vienna, Alma, nÇe Schindler, did not need to exert herself to meet the day’s most famous; she knew them all. These diaries of her young adulthood begin in 1898, when she is 19 years old, and end in 1902, when she meets and marries Gustav Mahler. But until that moment she writes faithfully to and of herself, trying especially to find her way through the complex erotic life of fin-de-siäcle Vienna. The first would-be lover is none other than Gustav Klimt, famous for his large-scale erotic paintings. But her mother and stepfather catch onto his clumsy attempts at seduction before the affair goes too far. Soon there are other seducers and suitors, including especially composer Alexander Zemlinsky. Alma in fact seems to have been serious about him in her own self-absorbed and overheated way, but Gustav Mahler easily sweeps all competitors aside. Apart from Alma’s budding sexuality (as an example of its time and place), the appeal and importance of these diaries probably resides in her account of daily life in very interesting circles. She is young and often giddy, but she also knows a good deal about new movements in art and music. Her customary snap judgments do not interest much, but the day-by-day account of where she went, whom she met, and what she saw or listened to gives a good notion of daily life in Vienna at its peak. The introduction by the editors (Beaumont is a conductor, researcher, and musicologist; he and Rode-Breymann edited the German edition of the diaries) is uninformative. Readers seeking a clearer picture of her story should seek it in the second volume of Henry-Louis de La Grange’s monumental Mahler biography.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8014-3654-0
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Cornell Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1998


FictionECSTASY by Mary Sharratt
by Mary Sharratt