ALMA MAHLER OR THE ART OF BEING LOVED by Francoise Giroud

ALMA MAHLER OR THE ART OF BEING LOVED

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Although in this unsatisfying biography she describes Alma Mahler as a ""goddess who made a god of each of her lovers,"" Giroud (ed. in chief, L'Express; I Give You My Word, 1974) also depicts the composer's wife as an arrogant, narcissistic woman who played whatever role she was cast in by creative, demanding men who in turn adored her for conforming to their expectations. Mahler was born into the artistic circles of Vienna in 1879. According to Giroud, Gustav, her first husband and 20 years her senior, enslaved her to his domestic needs, denigrated her taste for Nietzsche, Wagner, and Plato, and read Kant to her while she was in labor with the second of their two daughters, who died at age four. Sexually deprived, Alma began an affair with architect Walter Gropius; her husband consulted Freud. After Gustav's death and several other affairs, Mahler married Gropius, with whom, Giroud says, she ""had nothing in common"" except an exquisite daughter who died at age 17. The couple divorced. Although the work of Mahler's creative mates ""bored"" her, as Giroud puts it, Mahler liked the painting of Oskar Kokoschka, with whom she had an affair before, at age 50, marrying Franz Werfel, the author of The Song of Bernadette. There were other lovers, even at age 55, in what Werfel called his wife's ""last fling,"" with a 38-year-old priest. As Werfel's fame declined, Mahler resumed her role as the great composer's widow, or sometimes as the ""widow of the four arts."" She died in 1964, at age 85. A grudging tribute without insight, compassion, or even evidence of the ""power"" that inspired the love that Mahler supposedly cultivated as an art. Mahler's determination, which allowed her to survive the loss of children and husbands, and her life in prewar Vienna certainly deserve at least as much attention as the amount of benedictine she drank.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
Page count: 168pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press