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4 Lieder

Composer: Mahler Alma

Instruments: Voice Piano

Tags: Lied Song

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Alma Maria Mahler Gropius Werfel (born Alma Margaretha Maria Schindler; 31 August 1879 – 11 December 1964) was a Viennese-born composer, author, editor and socialite. At fifteen, she was mentored by Max Burckhard. Musically active from her early years, she was the composer of nearly fifty songs for voice and piano, and works in other genres as well. Only seventeen songs are known to survive.
In her early years, she fell in love with composer and conductor Alexander von Zemlinsky, but their relationship did not last long. She became the wife of composer Gustav Mahler, who insisted (as a condition of their marriage) that she give up composing. Eventually she fell into depression from being artistically stifled. While her marriage was struggling, she had an affair with Walter Gropius. Gustav started to encourage Alma's composing and helped prepare some of her compositions for publication, but died soon after this attempted reconciliation in 1911. Alma married Gropius in 1915 and the couple had a daughter together, Manon Gropius. During her marriage to Gropius, Alma had an affair with Franz Werfel. Alma and Werfel were eventually married after Alma separated from Gropius.
In 1938, after the Anschluss, Werfel and Alma were forced to flee Austria as it was unsafe for Jews. Eventually the couple settled in Los Angeles. In later years, her salon became part of the artistic scene, first in Vienna, then in Los Angeles and in New York.
Alma Maria Schindler was born on 31 August 1879 in Vienna, Austria (then Austria-Hungary), to the famous landscape painter Emil Jakob Schindler and his wife Anna Sofie. She was tutored at home and brought up in the Catholic Church. In 1886 Crown Prince Rudolf found interest in Emil Jakob Schindler's paintings and commissioned Schindler to take a trip with his family to the Adriatic coast to produce landscape paintings. In 1892 the family also traveled to the North Sea island of Sylt where Emil Schindler died.
After her father's death, Alma focused on the piano. She studied composition and counterpoint with Josef Labor, a blind organist who introduced her to a "great deal of literature". At fifteen she was sent to school but attended for only a few months. As she grew older, a case of childhood measles left her with decreased hearing. Max Burckhard, friend of Emil Schindler and director of Vienna's Burgtheater theater, became Alma's mentor. On Alma's seventeenth birthday, Burckhard gave her two laundry baskets full of books. In 1895, Anna Schindler, Alma's mother, married Carl Moll, Emil Schindler's student. In 1899 they had a daughter together named Maria.
Alma met Gustav Klimt through Carl Moll. Moll and Klimt were both founding members of the Vienna Secession, "a group organized for the purpose of breaking with Vienna's tradition-bound Imperial Academy of the visual arts". Klimt fell in love with Alma. While she initially was interested in Klimt her desire cooled soon after. Klimt and Alma were friends until Klimt's death. In fall 1900, Alma began studying composition with Alexander von Zemlinsky. Zemlinsky and Alma fell in love and kept their relationship a secret.
Alma would tease Zemlinsky about what she thought were his ugly features, saying she could easily have "ten others" to replace him. She also noted that to marry Zemlinsky would mean she would "bring short, degenerate Jew-children into the world". As the relationship grew strained, Zemlinsky visited her less and less. On 7 November 1901 she attended Zuckerkandls' salon where she began a flirtation with Gustav Mahler. In the month of November, while still in a relationship with Zemlinsky, she started an affair with Mahler. By 8 December, Mahler and Alma were secretly engaged; however, it was not until 12 December that she wrote to Zemlinsky about her engagement. The engagement was formally announced on 23 December.
On 9 March 1902, she married Gustav Mahler, who was 19 years her senior and the director of the Vienna Court Opera. With him she had two daughters, Maria Anna (1902–1907), who died of scarlet fever or diphtheria, and Anna (1904–1988), who later became a sculptor. Gustav was not interested in Alma Mahler's composition, desiring for her to abandon composing. However, it is disputed among scholars whether or not Gustav outright forbade Alma Mahler to compose. Despite this scholarly confusion, she did artistically stifle herself and embraced the role of a loving wife and supporter of her husband's music.
In June 1910, after becoming severely depressed in the wake of Maria's death, Alma began an affair with the young architect Walter Gropius (later head of the Bauhaus), whom she met during a rest at a spa. Gustav sought advice from Sigmund Freud in August. The 2010 film Mahler on the Couch suggests that Gustav's consultations with Freud might have focused on his curtailing of Alma's musical career as a major marital obstacle, but the actual content of them is not known.
Following the emotional crisis in their marriage after Gustav's discovery of Alma's affair with Gropius, Gustav began to take a serious interest in Alma's musical compositions, regretting his earlier dismissive attitude and taking promotional actions. Gustav edited some of her songs (Die stille Stadt, In meines Vaters Garten, Laue Sommernacht, Bei dir ist es traut, Ich wandle unter Blumen). Upon his urging, and under his guidance, Alma prepared five of her songs for publication (they were issued in 1910, by Gustav's own publisher, Universal Edition).
In February 1911, Gustav fell severely ill with an infection related to a heart defect that had been diagnosed several years earlier. He died on 18 May.
After Gustav's death, Alma did not immediately resume contact with Gropius. Between 1912 and 1914 she had a tumultuous affair with the artist Oskar Kokoschka, who created works inspired by his relationship with her, including his painting The Bride of the Wind. Kokoschka's possessiveness wore on Alma, and the emotional vicissitudes of the relationship tired them both.
With the coming of World War I, Kokoschka enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Alma subsequently distanced herself from Kokoschka and resumed contact with Walter Gropius, who was also serving in combat at that time. She and Gropius married on 18 August 1915 in Berlin during one of his military leaves. They had a daughter together, Manon Gropius (1916–1935), who grew up being friends with Maria Altmann. After Manon died of polio at the age of 18, composer Alban Berg dedicated his newly composed Violin Concerto to her, "In Memory of an Angel".
Alma became pregnant and gave birth to a son, Martin Carl Johannes Gropius (1918–1919). Gropius at first believed that the child was his, but Alma's ongoing affair with Franz Werfel was common knowledge in Vienna by this time. Within a year, they agreed to a divorce. In the meantime, Martin, who had been born prematurely, developed hydrocephalus and died at the age of ten months. Alma's divorce from Gropius became final in October 1920.
While Gropius's military duties were still keeping him absent, Alma met and began an affair with Prague-born poet and writer Franz Werfel in the fall of 1917. She and Werfel began openly living together from that point on. However, she postponed marrying Werfel until 1929, after which she took the name Alma Mahler-Werfel.
In 1938, following the Anschluss, Alma and Werfel, who was Jewish, were forced to flee Austria for France; they maintained a household in Sanary-sur-Mer, on the French Riviera, from summer 1938 until spring 1940. With the German invasion and occupation of France during World War II, and the deportation of Jews and political adversaries to Nazi concentration camps, the couple was no longer safe in France and frantically sought to secure their emigration to the United States. In Marseilles, they were contacted by Varian Fry, an American journalist and emissary of the Emergency Rescue Committee, a private American relief organization that aided refugee intellectuals and artists at that time.
As exit visas could not be obtained, Fry arranged for the Werfels to journey on foot across the Pyrenees into Spain, to evade the Vichy French border officials. From Spain, Alma and Franz traveled on to Portugal. They stayed in Monte Estoril, at the Grande Hotel D'Itália, between 8 September and 4 October 1940. On the same day, they boarded the S.S. Nea Hellas headed for New York City, arriving on 13 October.
Eventually they settled in Los Angeles, where Alma continued her role as a hostess, bringing together Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Thomas Mann, and many other artists. Werfel, who had already enjoyed moderate renown in the US as an author, achieved popular success with his novel The Song of Bernadette, which was made into a film in 1943, and the science fiction novel, Star of the Unborn, published after his death. Werfel, who had experienced serious heart problems throughout his exile, died of a heart attack in California in 1945.
In 1946, Mahler-Werfel became a U.S. citizen. Several years later she moved to New York City, where she remained a cultural figure. Leonard Bernstein, who was a champion of Gustav Mahler's music, stated in his Charles Eliot Norton lectures of 1973 that Mahler-Werfel had attended some of his rehearsals. Benjamin Britten considered her to be a "living" link to both Mahler and Alban Berg, and dedicated his Nocturne for Tenor and Small Orchestra to her.
Alma Mahler-Werfel died 11 December 1964 in New York City. She was buried on 8 February 1965 in the Grinzing Cemetery of Vienna, in the same grave as her daughter Manon Gropius and just a few steps away from her first husband Gustav Mahler.
American satirist Tom Lehrer regarded her obituary as “the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary it has ever been my pleasure to read”. It prompted him to write the ballad, "Alma", portraying her as "the loveliest girl in Vienna ... the smartest as well" who became a difficult, temperamental companion to the work-absorbed Mahler, Gropius, and Werfel as each in turn came under her "spell". Of her relationship to Mahler he sang: "Their marriage, however, was murdah / He'd scream to the heavens above / 'I'm writing Das Lied von der Erde / and she only vants to make love!'"
In the 1974 film Mahler, by director Ken Russell, Gustav Mahler, while on his last train journey, remembers the important events of his life, such as his relationship with his wife, the deaths of his brother and young daughter, and his trouble with the muses. In the film, Alma was portrayed by Georgina Hale, and Gustav by Robert Powell. In 1996, Israeli writer Joshua Sobol and Austrian director Paulus Manker created the polydrama Alma. It played in Vienna for six successive seasons, and toured with over 400 performances to Venice, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Petronell, Berlin, Semmering, Jerusalem, and Prague—all places where Mahler-Werfel had lived. The show was made into a three-part TV miniseries in 1997.
Mohammed Fairouz set the words of Alma Mahler in his song cycle Jeder Mensch. It premiered in a coupling with songs of Alma Mahler by mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey in 2011.
A treatment of Mahler-Werfel's life was presented in the 2001 Bruce Beresford film Bride of the Wind, in which Alma was played by Australian actress Sarah Wynter. Gustav Mahler was portrayed by British actor Jonathan Pryce. Swiss actor Vincent Pérez portrayed Oskar Kokoschka.
In 1998, extracts from Alma's diaries were published, covering the years from 1898 to 1902, up until the time she married Mahler. In the 2001 novel The Artist's Wife by Max Phillips, she tells her own story from the afterlife, focusing on her complicated relationships.
In 2010, the German filmmaker Percy Adlon and his son Felix Adlon released their film Mahler auf der Couch (Mahler on the Couch), which relates Gustav Mahler's tormented relationship with his wife Alma and his meeting with Sigmund Freud in 1910. In the film's introduction, the directors stated, "That it happened is fact. How it happened is fiction."
Mahler-Werfel's two books on Gustav Mahler influenced studies of the latter. As an articulate, well-connected, and influential woman who outlived her first husband by more than 50 years, Mahler-Werfel was for decades treated as the main authority on the mature Gustav Mahler's values, character, and day-to-day behavior, and her various publications quickly became the central source material for Mahler scholars and music-lovers alike. As scholars investigated her depiction of Mahler and her relationship with him, her accounts have increasingly been revealed as unreliable, false, and misleading. Nevertheless, the deliberate distortions have had a significant influence on several generations of scholars, interpreters, and music-lovers.
Citing the serious contradictions between Alma's accounts and other evidence, including her own diaries, several historians and biographers have begun to speak of the "Alma Problem". According to Hugh Wood, "Often she is the only witness, and the biographer has to depend on her while doubting with every sentence her capacity for telling the truth. Everything that passed through her hands must be regarded as tainted".
Alma played the piano from childhood and in her memoirs ("Mein Leben"), reports that she first attempted composing in the beginning of 1888 on the Greek island of Corfu. She studied composition with Josef Labor beginning in 1894 or 1895 and until 1901. She met Alexander von Zemlinsky in early 1900, began composition lessons with him that fall, and continued as his student until her engagement with Gustav Mahler in December 1901, after which she ceased composing. Up until that time, she had composed or sketched mostly Lieder, but also around 20 piano pieces and a small number of chamber music works, and a scene from an opera. She briefly resumed composing in 1910, but stopped in 1915. The chronology of her compositions is difficult to establish, because she did not date her manuscripts and destroyed many of them herself. Attempts to establish a chronological list of her works have been made by Susanne Rode-Breymann in 1999 and 2014, and by Knud Martner in 2018.
Only a total of 17 songs by her survive. Fourteen were published during her lifetime, in three publications dated 1910, 1915, and 1924. The first two volumes appeared under the name Alma Maria Schindler-Mahler, and the last volume was published as "Fünf Gesänge" by Alma Maria Mahler; the cover of the 1915 set was illustrated by Oskar Kokoschka. Three additional songs were discovered in manuscript posthumously; two of them were published in the year 2000, edited by Dr. Susan M. Filler, and one published in 2018, edited by Barry Millington. Her personal papers, including music manuscripts, are held at the University of Pennsylvania, the Austrian National Library in Vienna, and the Bavarian State Library in Munich. These songs have been regularly performed and recorded since the 1980s. Orchestral versions of the accompaniments have been produced. Seven songs were orchestrated by David and Colin Matthews (published by Universal Edition), and all 17 songs were orchestrated by Julian Reynolds, and by Jorma Panula.
Compositions cited from Mahler, A Complete Songs unless otherwise noted.
Posthumously published
Note: For a complete list of Alma Schindler-Mahler's works, see page "Talk"