from Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters, by Alma Mahler, Third ed., pages 47-48


His remarkable egocentricity was often betrayed in amusing little incidents. Sometimes he liked to break off work for a day or two in order to go back to it with his mind refreshed. On one such occasion we went to Misurina. My mother was with us and we had three rooms next door to each other. My mother was in my room and we were whispering cautiously, as our habit was, for Mahler’s ears detected the lightest sound and the slightest sound disturbed him. Suddenly my door flew open and was banged shut and there stood Mahler in a fury. ‘Do you hear that? Someone banging a door again along the passage. I shall make a complaint.’ For a moment we looked duly horrified and then burst out laughing. ‘But, Gustav, you’ve just done the same thing yourself.’

He saw the absurdity of it.

One of his favorite quotations was from Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Imagination: ‘How often have the inspirations of my genius been brought to naught by the crack of a whip!’

His life during the summer months was stripped of all dross, almost inhuman in its purity. No thoughts of fame or worldly glory entered his head. We lived on peacefully from day to day undisturbed in mind, except for the occasional letter from the Opera, which was sure to bring trouble.

In the autumn he played me the completed Fifth Symphony. It was the first time he had ever played a new work to me and we climbed arm in arm up to his hut with all solemnity for the occasion. When he had done, I told him of all that won my instant love in this magnificent work, but also that I was not sure about the chorale at the end. I said it was hymnal and boring. He disagreed.

‘Yes, but Bruckner – ‘ he protested.

‘He, yes; but not you,’ I said, and on the way down through the wood I tried to make clear to him the radical difference between his nature and Bruckner’s. I could not feel he was at his best in working up a church chorale.

I was touching here on a rift in his being which often went so deep as to bring him into serious conflict with himself. He was attracted by Catholic mysticism, an attraction which was encouraged by those friends of his youth who changed their names and were baptized. His love of Catholic mysticism was, however, entirely his own.