These days, I alternate world premiere prep by day with dusting off my piano chops by night. Artists for The Inspector arrive this weekend, and the show opens on April 27. But before that, I’ll have the privilege of taking the stage with mezzo Kate Lindsey for a recital at The Barns.
On that recital will be a new song cycle (Jeder Mensch), written for Kate by composer Mohammed Fairouz. The cycle alternates songs by Alma Mahler with new songs written by Fairouz to texts from Alma’s diaries. When I took a break from the piano bench last night, I popped the 2001 Bride of the Wind movie into the DVD player and truly enjoyed the ride. Some of it is apocryphal for sure, but it’s a good glimpse into how this enigmatic woman might have lived.
I hadn’t realized how extensively Alma’s songs were used in the soundtrack to the movie. True, her music isn’t as fully finished and finely crafted as it might’ve been had she enjoyed the same cultural and societal advantages as the men with whom she shared her life. But the songs are (surprisingly, actually) fascinating. And juxtaposing them them with new songs written to her own words is illuminating. The title of the cycle comes from a quote of Frau Mahler’s: “Jeder Mensch kann alles, aber er muß auch zu allem bereit sein.” (Every person can do everything, but he must also be ready for anything.)
Here, the texts to Fairouz’s songs, from his website:
I. The Eternal Source
“Today I know the eternal source of all strength. It is in nature, in the earth, in people who don’t hesitate to cast away their existence for the sake of an idea. They are the ones who can love. I go on living with my face lifted high, but with my feet on the ground – where they belong.”
II. Today I Realized Something Very Strange
“Today I realized something very strange. – I am not happy – and not unhappy. It came to me suddenly that I am living what only appears to be a life. I hold so much inside of me, I am not free – I suffer – but I don’t know why or what for. My ship is in the harbor, but it has sprung a leak.”
III. The Celebration of the Spirit
“Gustav Mahler – from the struggles of abstraction, Oskar Kokoschka, the genius, Walter Gropius, the improviser of cultures and wills – And Joseph Fraenkel, the genial improviser … From Walter I want children – from Oskar, works – from Fraenkel, the celebration of the spirit that he never offered me. I wish that Fraenkel had moved into my house to live the rest of his life with me.”
— from the Correspondence and Diaries of Alma Mahler
Above at left, Oskar Kokoschka’s “Bride of the Wind” self-portrait, expressing his love for Alma Mahler