Last December 13th, there appeared in the newspapers the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary it has ever been my pleasure to read. It was that of a lady named 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 is 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, on reading this obituary, that the story of Alma was the stuff of which ballads should be made, so here is one:
The loveliest girl in Vienna Was Alma, the smartest as well. Once you picked her up on your antenna, You'd never be free of her spell. Her lovers were many and varied From the day she began her - beguine.**** There were three famous ones whom she married, And God knows how many between. Alma, tell us, All modern women are jealous, Which of your magical wands Got you Gustav and Walter and Franz? The first one she married was Mahler, Whose buddies all knew him as Gustav, And each time he saw her he'd holler, "Ach, that is the Fräulein I must have!" Their marriage, however, was murdah. He'd scream to the heavens above, "I'm writing Das Lied von der Erde And she only wants to make love!" Alma, tell us, All modern women are jealous. You should have a statue in bronze For bagging Gustav and Walter and Franz. While married to Gus she met Gropius, And soon she was swinging with Walter. Gus died and her tear drops were copious, She cried all the way to the altar. But he would work late at the Bauhaus, And only came home now and then. She said, "What am I running, a chow house? It's time to change partners again!" Alma, tell us, All modern women are jealous. Though you didn't even use Ponds, You got Gustav and Walter and Franz. While married to Walt, she'd met Werfel, And he, too, was caught in her net. He married her but he was carefel, 'Cause Alma was no Bernadette. And that is the story of Alma, Who knew how to receive and to give. The body that reached her embalma Was one that had known how to live. Alma, tell us, How can they help being jealous? Ducks always envy the swans Who get Gustav and Walter, You never did falter With Gustav and Walter and Franz.
I know some people feel that marriage as an institution is dying out, but I disagree. And the point was driven home to me rather forcefully not long ago by a letter I received which said: "Darling, I love you, and I cannot live without you. Marry me, or I will kill myself." Well, I was a little disturbed at that until I took another look at the envelope, and saw that it was addressed to occupant...
Speaking of love, one problem that recurs more and more frequently these days, in books and plays and movies, is the inability of people to communicate with the people they love: husbands and wives who can't communicate, children who can't communicate with their parents, and so on. And the characters in these books and plays and so on, and in real life, I might add, spend hours bemoaning the fact that they can't communicate. I feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up!
* aka Alma Mahler-Werfel, born Alma Schindler; 1879-1964. Daughter of the painter Emil Jakob Schindler.
** Among them were the artist Gustav Klimt, composer Arnold Schoenberg, writer Gerhart Hauptman, composer Alban Berg, singer Enrico Caruso, composer Alexander Zemlinksy, artist Oskar Kokoschka, and Professor Johannes Hollnsteiner.
*** Das Lied von der Erde (aka The Song of the Earth), a very heavy piece of music written by Mahler when he knew he was dying.
**** A reference to Cole Porter's song title, Begin the Beguine, a song popular in the Big Band Era (a beguine being a ballroom dance similar to a rumba).
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