Alma returned from her summer vacation on 25 September, but ten days passed before Zemlinsky found time to visit her.
I opened the gate and led him up to my room. Our kisses were less wild but more tender than in the spring. [...] He found me changed, but couldn't say how. He could only stay briefly, had missed the train and had a performance in the evening. He didn't give me a lesson.
Day after day Alma confided her hopes and fears to her diary. Her ecstasy knew no bounds:
I would gladly be pregnant for him, gladly bear his children. His blood and mine, commingled: my beauty with his intellect. I would gladly serve him in his professional life, live for him and his kith and kin, breathe [for him], attend to his every happiness, serve on him with a gentle hand. God give me the strength and the willpower to do so.
On 11 October he at last found time to call again. Lessons at the Moll's new villa followed a regular pattern: for an hour or so, Zemlinsky would sit at the piano and correct Alma's latest exercises, scolding and praising by turn; then they would repair to the sofa for an intensive session of extra-curricular activity. Though aware that Anna Moll could disturb them at any moment, they were in seventh heaven. The time had come, Zemlinsky felt, to consummate the union: 'I would like to possess you - possess you completely!!!' he wrote. But Alma hesitated. Looking back on this turFulent period, she ascribed her diffidence to sheer cowardice:
Fool that I was, I believed in a virginal purity, which had to be upheld. Not the times were at fault, it was I who was to blame. I played hard to get. But this period was absolute music for me: perhaps the happiest and rnost carefree of my life.
Tension mounted. In the privacy of the Moll's music room their love was undivided, but on the rare occasions when they were in company thc sparks would fly. On I November, at dinner with Spitzer, matters came to a head. Zemlinsky fumed:
You come into the room, scarcely give me your hand, scarcely answer my questions. [...] The conversation revolves around trifling, childish, stupid events, with vulgar words and hysterical expletives. [...] And then the letter you brought with you. Not a loving word, instead inane remarks about a yellow bed and a yellow blouse: the comforts of courtesans! [...] I am not complaining, not begging: that was earlier - but now no longer! [...] To love I cannot force yout but at least to conventional good manners.
His love was undiminished, but the reality of the situation began to dawn on him:
Recently, when we were alone together, your recklessly tender love-making was motivated chiefly by the desire to find out what it was like. That's my suspicion. [...] How tender and warm-hearted were your words: 'I want to be the mother of your children'- if only they had been sincere. But they were not! [...] This I know: all your views, your boundless vanity and self-indulgence, all this, for the two of us, is an obstacle to happiness! [...] I am constantly debating whether I should come out to visit you this week or not. Perhaps it would be better if you were not to see me for some time.
On 6 November Alma sent him a brief, conciliatory letter. He replied with alacrity:
You make me wild, my renewed longing for you is driving me almost mad! All my resolutions are blown to the winds!
On 27 October he conducted an orchestral concert in Graz, promoted by Alexander Rosé, with the violinist Jan Kubelik and the pianist Rudolf Friml as soloists. Five days later, on 7 November, the programme was repeated in Vienna. That evening, while Zemlinsky was energetically leading the orchestra of the Konzertverein through a programme of Cornelins, Spohr, Liszt, Lalo and Ernst, Alma was out visiting her friends the Zuckerkandls. The list of guests included Klimt, Burckhard, Spitzer and - Mahler. Alma's first impression of him was of sheer nervous energy, of a man 'made of nothing but oxygen'. Impressed as she was, the idea of loving, let alone marrying such a man never entered her head. Two days later she sat at the piano, idly weighing up the pros and cons of consummating the bond with her 'beloved Alex':
If only I knew: 1) if he does not give himself entirely, whether my nerves would suffer, and 2) if he were to give himself entirely, whether there would be any unpleasant consequences. Both alternatives are equally dangerous, yet I madly desire his embrace. I shall never forget the touch of his hand on my most intimate parts. Such fire, such a sense of joy flowed through me.
Yet Mahler had not remained idle. Already at their first meeting he had invited Alma to his dress rehearsal of Offenhach's «Les contes d'Hoffmann» the following morning; and two days later he sent her an anouymous love poem. On 18 November, after a performance of Gluck's «Orfeo ed Eurydice», he intercepted her and Anna Moll in the foyer and invited them into his office for a cup of tea. From his comments it became apparent that he was the author of the poem. Imperiously Alma asked her diary: 'Alexander u Zemlinsky - who is he?'
Nevertheless she was torn between the two men, both as lovers and as artists. Mahler sent her his «Wunderborn songs» and she was aghast; she played through act I of «The Triumph of Time» and wrote: 'It's so close to my heart'. She was also uncertain - with good reason, as was soon to transpire - whether Mahler would respect her ambitions as a composer. For her parents, there was no shadow of doubt: beyond the circle of his Viennese admirers, Zemlinsky was an unknown, while Mahler was internationally accredited, occupied an influential position, drew a good salary. He was also twenty years her senior - and Jewish - but these objections were brushed aside. Aided by family pressure and abetted by her persistently nagging desire for sexual fulfilment, Alma gradually succeeded in persuading herself that she loved him. On 12 December she wrote to Zemlinsky:
You know how very much I loved you. You have fulfilled me completely. Just as suddenly as this love arrived, it has departed - has been cast aside. Love has taken command of me with renewed force! On my knees I beg your forgiveness for the evil hours I have given you. Some things lie beyond our control.
Four days later he came to bid her farewell:
He entered the room - paler than usual and quiet - I went to him, drew his head on to my breast and kissed his hair. I felt so strange. Then we sat down and talked earnestly about the whole affair - side by side - we two, whose bodies had once coiled in love's wildest embrace. He a little sarcastic, as ever, but otherwise charming, endearingly charming. My eyes were full of tears, but my will stood firm. Today a beautiful, beautiful love was buried. Gustav, you will have much to do to replace it.
On 27 December news of Mahlerts engagement was leaked to the press. The following day Zemlinsky sent Schoenberg and Mathilde a jovial New Year's greeting, spiked with family gossip, theatre news and flippant remarks about his brother-in-law's Ueherbrettl début. Upon his chagrin d'amour he squandered all of eight words - as if the affair had never been of any consequence: 'The latest news: Mahler engaged to Alma Schindler.'64 Then silence: two and a half lines of dashes, twenty-five in all - a stifled cry of despair.
[pp.96-98, senza note. © Antony Beaumont]