Gustav Mahler was one of the greatest modern composers, generally classified as one of the Late Romantics. He wrote ten symphonies (although he died with the last one unfinished), and numerous other works, and was one of the most respected and popular composers of his era.
Mahler and his wife Alma had moved to New York in 1908, but as his health failed – he suffered from bacterial endocarditis, complicated his defective heart valves, and almost universally fatal before antibiotics – he and Alma returned to Europe. Mahler died in Vienna, and was buried in Grinzing.
A Jew from Prague who fled the Aunschluss in 1938, Franz Werfel was also a playwright noted for his satirical plays about the Nazis (written before 1938). He and his wife Alma (the widow of Gustav Mahler) fled to Paris, where they were safe until the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 – when they fled once more, going into hiding and eventually reaching Portugal, from whence they took ship to New York. It was during this period, sheltered by assorted sympathisers, that Werfel learned the story of St Bernadette Soubirous, who had reported 18 separate visions of the Virgin Mary while at Lourdes. Some of this was told to him by people who had actually met Bernadette, although it is likely that their accounts were somewhat embroidered.
Werfel wrote the saint’s story largely as a tribute and thanks to the people who had helped them in France, Spain and Portugal (something he had promised them while fleeing the Nazis), and it was published in 1942 and spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list, including 13 weeks at the top of it. In 1943, it was adapted as a film which was nominated for 8 Oscars and won 4 of them.
The Bauhaus school was founded in Weimar, Germany (the town, not the government) by Walter Gropius, an architect. Ironically, as first comprised, the Bauhaus lacked an architecture department, although given its project of creating a “total” work of art in which all arts, including architecture, would eventually be brought together, this was an oversight that was corrected in short order.
Bauhaus would become one of the most – if not the most – influential schools of design in the twentieth century, affecting art, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, typography and, yes, architecture. Ironically, its wide influence had much to do with its suppression by the Nazis – many Bauhaus alumni were exiled by the Nazi regime, others fled it. They spread its influence to Western Europe, Britain, North America and Israel (Tel Aviv, for example, built more than 3000 buildings influenced by Bauhaus ideas from 1933 onwards).
Franz Werfel was husband number three for Alma Mahler. She’d already been having an affair with him and even living together for about a decade when they married. Unlike her other marriages, however, this one would last. Alma would stay with Franz until his death.
Along the way, she had a very beneficial effect on his career, inspiring him and promoting him, and she deservedly shared in the success of his most famous work, The Song of Bernadette. After the couple fled Austria in the wake of the Aunschluss in 1938, they settled in the United States, and when The Song of Bernadette became a Hollywood film, they became wealthy celebrities.
Mahler and Schindler first met in November of 1901. Their marriage was considered a bad idea by most of their friends and family, but Alma was already pregnant with their first child by then (she was born in November of the same year) by their wedding day. She was followed by a second child two years later.
Alma and Gustav’s marriage was tumultuous – Mahler was diagnosed with a defective heart in 1907, and the family moved from Vienna to New York City in 1908. Mahler himself died in 1911, but Alma lived on until 1964.
Das Lied von der Erde – “The Song of the Earth” – is a six movement orchestral composition in which each of the six movements is an independent song (but “Six Songs of the Earth” wouldn’t sounded so good). It was composed by Gustav Mahler, an Austrian composer, and largely inspired by his reading of Hans Bethge’s volume of ancient Chinese poetry rendered into German, Die Chinesische Flöte (“The Chinese Flute”).
It is unusual in that it is a combined form, a song cycle and a symphonic work. It is become one of most well known of all Mahler’s works – and is also widely considered his most personal. And it was never performed prior to his death six months earlier.