Passionate Spirit: The Life of Alma Mahler

Basic. Sept. 2019. 368p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780465096718. $32; ebk. ISBN 9780465096725. MUSIC
Alma Mahler’s last name forever cast her in the shadow of her husband, composer Gustav Mahler, and her subsequent affairs with artists and musicians relegated her to the role of muse. To date, biographies about her are rarely titled without the attribution (Oliver Hilmes’s Malevolent Muse; Karen Monson’s Alma Mahler, Muse to Genius). Haste (Nazi Women: Hitler’s Seduction of a Nation; Sheila Fell: A Passion for Paint) envisions Alma not as a mere font of inspiration but an immensely talented artist in her own right. The author pinpoints the death of Alma’s father, a renowned painter, as the moment that she decided to be an artist. However, there was no path forward. Through colorful vignettes and historical research, this work depicts a gifted composer and painter whose only available route was through her relationships.
VERDICT Considering the sexism of the 19th and 20th centuries, Alma Mahler’s status as a “muse” can be understood as a strategic attempt to signal her own talents to the world. Haste presents a necessary update and reframing of Mahler’s life and legacy.

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