ECSTASY by Mary Sharratt

What a difference a medium makes! I tried to listen to the audio version of this, and couldn’t get into it, which was a great surprise to me as I love Mary Sharratt’s novels.

What happened when I decided to read it on my iPad mini? I LOVED it.

ECSTASY is the story of Alma Schindler’s first marriage to Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), the celebrated composer. If you have read Alma’s Memories & Letters, much of this material will be familiar to you. However, in Mary Sharratt’s hands, the story comes alive.

Gustav and Alma married 9 March 1902, partly because Alma was already pregnant with their first child.

Alma Mahler (1879-1964), with her daughters Maria (1902-1907) at left and Anna (1904-1988) at right.

Much has been discussed about the problems that Alma (a rather spoiled 21-year-old) had with Gustav (a controlling man, 19 years her senior.) But I didn’t realize until I read ECSTASY that their problems erupted pretty much on the first day of their marriage, when instead of spending time on a delightful honeymoon with his new (and very young) wife, Gustav dragged Alma off to Crefeld, a no-nothing town in Germany’s industrial belt, to conduct one of his symphonies.

Thus Alma spent her twenties in a relationship that made her lonely (Gustav was often absent) and emotionally starved (he was too much of a workaholic to notice his wife). Most damaging of all, Gustav believed that having two composers living together was ridiculous. So who had to give up their dreams? You guessed it. The damage done by suppressing her identity as a talented composer in her own right and becoming Gustav’s handmaid by serving his career (she copied out many of his scores) haunted her for the rest of her life.

Only when she began an affair with Walther Gropius, did Gustav finally wake up, and realize what a treasure he had in his wife. Of course, they were only granted a year of happiness, before Gustav succumbed to heart disease, dying on 18 May 1911.

If you love reading about turn-of-the-century Vienna, Gustav Mahler, the members of the Secession Movement, or Alma, you are in for a treat. Five stars.