Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Lovelist Girl in Vienna

I was looking up some information on Alban Berg's Violin Concerto that we heard last month in Salzburg which had been composed by the ailing composer as a memorial to Manon the 18 year old daughter of architect Walter Gropius and Alma Mahler-Werfel.  As often happens with these searches serendipity led me to a ballad  devoted to the story of Alma.  The much bedded and oft wedded muse for most of artistic Vienna in the early part of the 20th century was not an unknown to me but this little tribute to her charms by satirist Tom Lehrer came as a happy little surprise.

By way of explanation here is Lehrer's introduction to "Alma":
Last December 13th (1964), there appeared in the newspapers the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary that has ever been my pleasure to read. It was that of a lady name Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel who had, in her lifetime, managed to acquire as lovers practically all of the top creative men in central Europe, and, among these lovers, who were listed in the obituary, by the way, which was what made it so interesting, there were three whom she went so far as to marry.

One of the leading composers of the day: Gustav Mahler, composer of Das Lied von der Erde and other light classics. One of the leading architects: Walter Gropius of the Bauhaus school of design. And one of the leading writers: Franz Werfel, author of The Song of Bernadette and other masterpieces. It's people like that who make you realize how little you've accomplished. It is a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age he had been dead for two years. It seemed to me,  as I'm reading this obituary, that the story of Alma was the stuff of which ballads should be made so here is one.

There's no question that conductor Bruno Walter's assertion that she was "the loveliest girl in Vienna" was on the mark but her story suggests that Alma had more going for her than mere beauty. After all she fascinated Gustav and Walter and Frantz - and Oscar and another Gustav and Alex and most of Vienna.

17 febbraio - Santi Sette Fondatori dell'Ordine dei Servi della Beata Vergine Maria

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Debra She Who Seeks said...

Her own artistic expression was squelched by her times and her husband Mahler. Who knows what could have been if she had lived in more egalitarian times?


lovely but sad

David said...

Lehrer - what a genius. How much more context would the audience need nowadays?

Incidentally, I went to see Mahler's grave in Grinzing Cemetery. Alma's is nearby, with a triangular stone for Manon laid on it (have a photo if you're interested).