'The first one she married was Mahler
Whose buddies all knew him as Gust-av
And each time he saw her he'd holler
Ach, that is the fraulein I must have.'
So goes Tom Lehrer’s ditty penned after reading an obituary, in 1964, of that strapping Viennese beauty and mother-muse, Alma Mahler-Gropius-Werfel. Born in Habsburg Austria in 1879, she was the daughter of a prosperous landscape painter, and well placed by virtue of her beauty and her father's intellectual milieu for her life's work: nabbing and serving genius. The three she married were the composer Gustav Mahler, the architect Walter Gropius, and the poet and novelist Franz Werfel. Among her lovers were Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka.
That 'All modern women are jealous', as the refrain of Lehrer's song goes, is not really apposite: Alma was no modern woman. Her attempts at self-expression as a composer were squashed by Mahler, and never later developed. She was that old-fashioned woman, an intellectual's moll – but a moll who