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Was Gustav Mahler the red-hot lover from Jihlava?

An overheated news report in the New York Times suggests that he was. Building on scholarly ripples at the discovery of an amatory catalogue, Allan Kozinn intimates that Gustav Mahler had ‘numerous affairs and infatuations’ before his marriage to Alma in 1901.

That’s true. But it’s not new. Nor does it mean ‘affairs’ in the modern, sexual connotation.

The hot document is by Natalie Bauer-Lechner, a viola player who pursued Mahler with relentless ardour for 13 years and was dumped by him several times for being too persistent. He never fancied her and shoved her off when she tried to kiss him.

natalie bauer-lechner


Six years after he died, Natalie sent a list of Mahler’s love interests to her cousin. That document has now turned up in an auction house and been grabbed by the Austrian National Library. It contains no names that were previously unknown to Mahler scholars, and no adult-rated revelations. All the names and the ‘affairs’ are documented in Why Mahler?

Why Mahler? UK paperback edition



So far as we know, Mahler had one blazing sexual affaire before his marriage to Alma, with the soprano Anna Mildenburg. His wife would describe him as sexually inexperienced and (by her exacting standards) unsatisfying.

Natalie, the document’s author, never got past first base with Gustav. She is, at best, a jilted suitor and thirdhand witness to what the Times puffs up as his ‘love life’.





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  1. Tamara Nolan says:

    Well said, Norman! Loved your book!

  2. Bob Burns says:

    Hah! It must have been a slow news day at the Times. In the end, who cares? (Nothing new here, folks. Move along. )

    I’m waiting for a follow-up piece on Liszt and Chopin. Or Lenny B., for heaven’s sake.

    • “Or Lenny B”- -that would be interesting, I agree.
      Burton’s biography is more sober than the gossipy and shallow predecessor by Peyser and yet unearthed liaisons which she had missed out eg. Justus Franz.

  3. John Hames says:

    I did read the NYT piece, and couldn’t see much there that we didn’t already know about. But I’m surprised to see you so dismissive of NB-L as a witness: yes, her pursuit of Mahler was unsuccessful, but I’ve never read her book as any sort of hatchet job either of GM or the other women in his life. I thought she was generally regarded as pretty reliable, certainly compared to Alma, though that isn’t a large claim? He may or may not have been a lousy lover — and how could Alma possibly make up her mind about that in 15 seconds?! — but that doesn’t necessarily mean he had little or no experience. For instance, apart from Anna von Mildenburg, although we can’t know exactly what went on, his affair with Marion von Weber doesn’t sound platonic, does it?

    • Angela Cockburn says:

      If Alma only had fifteen seconds, then she was right, he was a lousy lover.

  4. PK Miller says:

    I thought it much ado about nothing. Mahler was a human being! What a shock! But who cares?

    I agree w/Bob Burns. If there ever was a tell-all about Lenny Bernstein’s myriad affairs–women AND men–it’d rival Leporello’s “Catalog” of Don Giovanni’s exploits!

    • yes, the interest in men was confirmed by Clive James in his memoirs, where he recounted an audacious advance made during an interview (towards Clive James)

  5. If you re-read the article carefully you will realze that Natalie actualy got to home base….

    • John Hames says:

      Well, yes. Probably. Though the prose is, as the article says, so deep purple that your guess as to what she means is as good as mine! I prefer it to the more terse descriptions of modern kiss & tell exposes, though.

      PK Miller is right in a way, but the usual explanation given for dwelling on the personal life of Mahler more than other composers is that his works were in the last analysis so completely about himself that the details of his emotional life have an exegetical value above mere prurience. That’s my excuse, anyway :-)

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