Join Us For A VIP Screening of Mahler on the Couch

Mahler on the Couch, at the Drexel February 17th(Photo: The National Center for Jewish Film)
Mahler on the Couch, at the Drexel February 17th(Photo: The National Center for Jewish Film)

“I demand that every note sounds exactly as I hear it as it sounds in my inner ear,” said Gustav Mahler.

Mahler on the Couch is a film from Germany directed by the brothers Felix and Percy Adlon, and it is not about a great composer taking a nap.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was famous in his lifetime as a great conductor. He was music director of the Vienna Opera, which made him royalty in Europe, and later the New York Philharmonic. He conducted 60 performances at the Metropolitan Opera from 1908-1910. The New York Times wrote of his debut, “Through it all went the sense of passion and divine physical beauty.”

Today, Mahler is near canonization for his epic symphonies and song cycles. The Columbus Symphony is preparing his penultimate work, the magnificent Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) for performances February 22 and 23. No one who loves music should miss these performances.

Here’s a preview. Bruno Walter conducts the Vienna Philharmonic, with Kathleen Ferrier, contralto.

Mahler was married to a much younger woman, Alma Schindler (1871-1964). The pressures of being a Jew in Vienna, being celebrated, envied, admired and hated, of writing his own music and running the world of music sent Mahler over the edge. 

By 1907, Alma was having an affair with the architect Walter Gropius; their youngest daughter had died and the post at the Vienna opera was proving intolerable. Many people would take to drink. Mahler sought out Siegmund Freud.

Mahler wrote to Freud with some urgency late in 1907. Freud was already famous, but Mahler was Mahler and could not be denied. The two men met for four-hour walk on a rainy afternoon. But Mahler on the Couch is not a film about a walk in the rain.  It’s about one tortured man-and living with Alma could be tortured, never mind opera singers, orchestral musicians, critics and heart trouble-looking for help to another. It was less a meeting of the minds than one great intellect trying to dominate another.

Whether it works or not is undecided in the film. What is brilliantly shown is Mahler’s world, the  intrigue and viciousness seething around him, and he (and us) being buoyed by music.

Mahler on the Couch will have special showing at the Drexel Theater on February 17 at 3 pm. I’ve been asked to host a panel discussion post-screening, with Melvin Bornstein, M.D., and Donald Harris, Dean Emeritus of the Ohio State University’s College of the Arts.

Get your ticket to the CSO’s Das Lied von der Erde performance and come to the film for free. After the movie, join me for coffee and pastries from Mozart’s and a panel including your’s truly and other experts and historians.

“This artfully composed film, framed with authentic care and scored with Mahler’s music…the Freud scenes have mystery, movement, anticipation and wit,” wrote a reviewer with The New York Times.

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