When Gustav Mahler Met Sigmund Freud

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They were Jews by birth (unreligious, but puritanical) and Viennese by adoption. Freud had been a medical student in Vienna when Mahler was at the Conservatory. Later Mahler served as conductor of the Vienna Court Opera. Opera was one of Freud's few diversions. But they did not meet until Freud was 54 and Mahler, at 50, had less than a year to live. The encounter was occasioned by the composer's marital problems with the young and beautiful Alma. Engrossed in his Tenth Symphony, Mahler suddenly found himself the object of domestic rebellion. Alma had, she said, submitted to his tyranny and neglect long enough; she felt used, drained by his self-absorption. The truth of her accusations, together with a case of impotence, produced in Mahler both guilt and panic - panic that was not eased by the appearance of another man (Walter Gropius) on the scene. Immediate action was called for.

Freud, holidaying in Leyden, Holland, that summer of 1910, received a telegram asking for an appointment. …