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Presenting Mahler’s Marriage

“From now on you have only one profession: to make me happy! Do you understand, Alma? I do realize that if you are to make me happy, you yourself must be happy. But in this drama, which could develop equally well into a comedy or a tragedy, the roles must be correctly cast. The role of the ‘composer,’ the ‘bread-winner,’ is mine; yours is that of the loving partner, the sympathetic comrade. Are you satisfied with it? I am asking much of you, very much – but I can and must do so, because I also know what I have to offer (and shall offer) in return. Almschi, I beg you, read this letter carefully. Before we speak again, we must have clarified everything, you must know what I demand and expect of you, and what I can give in return – what you must be for me. . . . I bless you, my dearest love, no matter how you react – I shall not write tomorrow, but wait instead for your letter on Saturday. A servant will be sent round and kept waiting in readiness. Many tender kisses, my Alma. And I beg you: Be truthful! Your Gustav.” #

“This letter!” Alma responds. “My heart missed a beat – give up my music – abandon what until now has been my life. My first reaction was – to pass him up. I had to weep – for then I realized that I loved him. Mama and I talked it over till late at night. She had read the letter. I find his behavior so ill-considered, so inept. It might have come all of its own, quite gently. But likely this will leave an indelible scar.” #

“My darling, I am possessed by dark spirits; they have cast me to the ground. Come and dispel them. Abide by me, my rod and staff. Come soon today, that I may rise up. Here I lie prostrate and await you; and silently I ask whether I may still hope for salvation, or whether I am to be damned. . . . Almschli, if you had left me, I would simply have been snuffed out, like a candle starved of air. When will you be arriving, dear heart? As you know, I am a schoolboy at heart, but a trace of the husband, or whatever you prefer to call it, still remains, and that part of me wishes for news of my dearest! But I’m longing for you! Longing! Longing!” #

In fact, the Pacific Symphony’s “Music Unwound” presentations of Mahler’s Ninth included two prefatory segments — the second of which, at concert-time, was a mini-lecture by conductor Carl St. Clair combined with three Ruckert Songs (memorably sung by Chris Nomura) and a tape-recorded reminiscence of her father by Anna Mahler, from the 1960s. #


  1. adrienne sirken says:

    Thank you for this description of a fascinating evening’s concert. In an era when we are all searching for the “hooks” to bring audiences into the invaluable world of great orchestral music, this creative melding of compelling biographical drama with the composer’s music is very valuable. It sounds like it could be a wonderful venue for orchestras through the country. Wherever there are people having relationships there will be interest in the windows into the artistic expression of the complex feelings that relationships evoke….
    I hope to hear of future events such as this one. Maybe even one on the east coast where I live !

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