In musicology, the Alma Problem is the sum of lies fabricated by Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel concerning one of her husbands Gustav Mahler whom she outlived. After Gustav succumbed to the Curse of the Ninth, Alma was able to destroy the evidence concerning her role in his death and reinvent herself as an innocent woman who suffered a random misfortune.
“Unfortunately, as scholarship has investigated the picture she sought to paint of Mahler and her relationship with him, her accounts have increasingly been revealed as unreliable, false, and misleading, and evidence of deliberate manipulation and falsification can no longer be ignored (1).”
We must ask why Gustav fell for such a twisted woman. He was a magnetic, artistic genius and Alma is just not that pretty or intelligent. She must have done something unnatural to capitalize on his weakness, but what could that have been?
Alma Schindler at nineteen (please remember)
You see, Alma Mahler is what’s called a hysterical character. Authentic sexuality originates spontaneously from the body and is characterized by complete gratification. Contrastingly, hysterics such as Alma perpetually exhibit a fake, performative sexuality because of infantile fixations. According to Wilhelm Reich, they use ostensibly sexual displays in order to discover possible dangers. Whoever calls their bluffs quickly finds that they aren’t playing with a full deck, that they are just traumatized six-year-old girls in adult bodies. That’s why they’re always getting into trouble. When they finally do have sex, they surely make “pseudo-passionate displays [which] turn out to be the expression of severe anxiety which is overcome by activity.”
“In the hysterical character,” writes Herr Doktor Reich in Character Analysis, “the mouth and the anus always stand for the female genital organ.” This must have something to do with “the fact that the mouth, in its role as a genital organ, attracts a great deal of libido to itself in the ‘displacement from below upwards (2).’” I suspect this manifests biophysically as an inordinate electric charge in the oral musculature. Thus much of Alma’s speech is a kind of sexual nonsense which she indiscriminately spews, seeing what it will stick to. Inevitably, sexually starved men blinded by their own trauma find themselves inexplicably lingering near her, paralyzed and unable to escape while she prepares the next vial of poison. They wandered in the desert thirsting for so long, they would now drink poison! Alma, whose entire personality is arrayed to blame the world for her own wickedness, chooses rather to ignore these facts so she can inflate the illusion that she still has an integrated body.
All Alma’s perversions function to repel orgastically potent men and ensure that she ensnares only a weak, sickly (preferably Jewish) man whom she can control. From Alma’s diary, concerning Gustav: “He’s sick, my poor dear, weighs under 10 stone – far too little. I shall care for him like a child. My love for him is infinitely touching (3).” We can see here that she is a ravenous wolf.
When Gustav crossed his legs like a woman (restricting blood-flow to his genitals) and looked up at her with misery, it meant “please stop, you are hurting me.” That’s the old language. Due to her perversion, Alma interpreted this as an invitation. She thinks she speaks some secret language and that she just gets it. O God! I don’t want to know what she gets! A strong man who sits comfortably is disagreeable to her because his vitality threatens to make her dysfunction apparent to her. She finds many ways to rationalize her neurosis with ideology.
We have reason to believe that after her real father’s death, Alma was sexually abused by her step-father Carl Moll in childhood. However, she could never be sure that it happened because it only proceeded as far as it could without Moll himself becoming aware of it. Nonetheless, she was left in state of pathological, intolerable excitation that no child should or could ever endure. It was as if she was turned inside-out and her normal interfacing with the world was exchanged for the hysterical displays while her potential intimacy was plagued by terror. By employing this energetic excess, she was able to ensnare Gustav (who was too sensitive for his own good), holding the last memories of his mother’s love for ransom. Because intolerable excitation was a baseline to her, she was unable to see that it’s not acceptable to excite someone in that way and that it hurt him. Gustav reasoned that if he could stop her from composing her own music, this stasis of energy would be compelled to rectify her libidinal economy but it doesn’t work like that evidently. She was unable to love but kept insinuating the contrary. Meanwhile, Gustav could not entertain the idea that she was untrue because this seemed to be his last chance. Eventually she lost interest and began an affair with architect and Aryan Walter Gropius.
In desperation, he wrote for her his Eighth Symphony. It employs a thousand musicians whose wages feed many children. “The Symphony of a Thousand” is a divinely inspired, Romantic oratorio concerning ultimate release and redemption from Mephistopheles’s damnation. The finale which itself takes over an hour to perform derives its lyrics from the final scene of Faust Part II. A thunderous chorus chronicles the doctor’s ascension through the heavenly spheres, the forfeiture of all misery and trauma taken on in life and entire union with the primeval essence of love. Its effect was the opposite of its intention.
Daß ja das Nichtige Alles verflüchtige, Glänze der Dauerstern, Ewiger Liebe Kern. - Goethe
He could have given her the Philosophers’ Stone for Christ’s sake and she still wouldn’t have been able to realize what it was. No matter how great his offering was – she was a goddess to that fool – it could only have shown her her inferiority and fornication, that she was Kundry, the Wandering Jew, and if that medicine ever came near her he would die and a dove would fly out of her. Of course that’s just me being a Romantic. In reality, Alma would have merely divested from pathological cathexes of libido, integrated repressed elements of herself and gained the capacity to live a more fulfilling life if she embodied the Eighth’s energy.
As for my Mahler, this rejection left him with only one choice: exhume Beethoven and challenge his accursed precedent. Superstitious to a fault, he wrote a hybrid lieder-symphony Das Lied von der Erde in order to test Beethoven’s curse. Mahler was still alive, it seemed, so she proceeded with an utterly cataclysmic Ninth (my ringtone). There was only one way: forward. He then wrote a haunting Adagio for a Tenth Symphony, drafts for a finale and two scherzos, and a nearly complete, enigmatic, temporally centered movement called Purgatorio on which the whole work pivots. It was in the draft of the finale that I discovered the hidden message encoded in some bars, below which the following was scribbled to Alma in mad despair: “To live for you! To die for you!”
Still suffering from the wound she inflicted on her, he died of a broken heart before he could impart her message to the composers of the Second Viennese School. The Time War had already begun and nothing could stop those Austrian guns from rolling into the Balkans three years later. But thanks to the diligent investigation of musicologists, light has been shed on their crimes and Mahler’s name has been salvaged. I was overjoyed to have been told by someone associated with a secret court in Prague that Alma was pardoned because of what she had suffered.
(1) Wikipedia – Alma Mahler ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alma_Mahler )
(2) Reich, Wilhelm – Character Analysis – Chapter X, Some Circumscribed Character Forms – 1. The Hysterical Character pg. 204-209
(3) Fischer, Jens Malte – Gustav Mahler – Chapter 22 Vienna in 1900: Alma as a Young Woman pg. 372