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Pauline Lerner

April 5, 2004 at 5:31 AM

What happens when a musician marries a musician? That is being discussed in one of the threads on this site. Of course, it has happened many times in history. For instance, Alma Maria Schindler married Gustav Mahler in the early years of this century and served as his muse and wife. I do mean "served." She was a beautiful, wealthy, intelligent, and musically talented woman with dreams of composing and conducting. When she was in her early 20s, she married the distinguished composer and conductor Gustav Mahler, twenty years her senior, after a brief, intense courtship. Of course, their love of and talent in music drew them together. Of course, his talent was greater than hers. However, I think that's no excuse for what happened. He was fair enough to be honest and set her an ultimatum before their formal engagement. He had several requirements for her to comply with. First, he noted that she was too young to have developed a real personality of her own, and he wanted her to keep it this way. She was to nurture his personality and forgo developing one of her own. Next, she had to give up her musical career in deference to his (of course). His third requirement, however, flabbergasted me. She had to renounce nurturing herself so that she would be free at all times to do household chores for him. Couldn't they afford a servant? He put these ultimata to her in a long letter, and she had the sense to show it to her mother and ask for her advice. Her mother was quite sensible and advised her daughter not to marry him. However, Anna went ahead and did it anyway. I wonder why. She was smart enough to have known better. Was it because love is blind? Did she feel that Mahler was the catch of a lifetime? He was not her first beau and would not be her last, so she had no cause for desperation. She did marry him, but these issues came up again and again during their marriage.

These issues are very much alive today, as evidenced in the discussion on this website. Someone wrote that both of his parents were musicians. The father was a "serious" musician who played classical music, and his mother was a devotee of one of the less "learned" genres of music. She came to believe that her kind of music was inferior to his, and she dropped it. Their grown child regrets this, and so do I. Love and music are two things which should never be stamped out. No one form of either of these is inherently superior to another. Love, talent, and appreciation come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors.

Now I still don't understand how Alma or anyone else got to be a muse. How does one person inspire creativity in another? Does the inspirer (muse, female) have to give up her own creativity for the inspiree? I don't understand the phenomenon.

I've tried thinking about people who have inspired me in my creative endeavors. Playing music with other people is an activity in which one person can touch something deep within another and make it sing. It happens regardless of personality and personal history. It can't be explained rationally any more than falling in love. When you find it, as I have been fortunate enough to many times, you just feel thrilled and make the most of it.

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