Skip to content

Mahler 11: Song of Desire. Gustav and Alma Mahler come to life in successful piece by Bart Vieveen

So it wasn't really that long ago that a world-famous composer could tell his 20-year-old lover to stop composing because he couldn't stand competition. And for her to do just that. It is a detail in the history of Gustav and Alma Mahler, long known to insiders, but which still came as a shock. Thanks to a theatre performance.

Bart Vieveen, once dramaturge alongside Guy Cassiers at Rotterdam's Ro Theater, wrote a theatre text during the pandemic based on the letters Gustav Mahler wrote to his wife and 'muse' Alma Mahler, combined with her diaries and an invoice from Sigmund Freud, with whom both had brief contact. The result is Mahler 11: Song of Desire. A sort of encore to the ten symphonies the composer wrote.

Thriving amateur life

Vieveen, who was rector of a Leiden Gymnasium after his life as a theatre dramaturge and recently obtained his PhD on a psychoanalytic approach to some important theatre texts, is now directing the play himself. The play is made in-house with two theatre friends. Formally they are not professional actors, this interim manager in special education and his wife, a freelance psychotherapist, but as it goes in Leiden: the South Holland city, which has hardly any professional art houses, has a thriving amateur life, whose quality is often high. Lidewij Gerits and Erik Siebel not only have quality, they also have enormous pleasure in playing, and the fact that they are also married lends depth to this play. It's not just about Alma and Gustav. It is also about every marriage.

The play, originally performed at the National Museum of Antiquities and playable in living rooms and social clubs, I could now see in the church hall where the Leiderdorp Art Circle had its monthly meeting. In a sold-out but considerably reverberant house, the predominantly slightly older audience was breathless.


It was beautiful to experience how such a rather literary fact was made into a living theatre performance. That moment, for instance, when Gustav breaks the gaiety of the early days of their relationship by denying Alma a career of her own, is heartbreaking. The way Vieveen, as writer and director, then provides context for the beautiful music of Mahler's symphonies by juxtaposing them with the texts Mahler was writing to his wife at the time is fascinating.

The perfect sound mixing, especially essential in that church hall, finishes it off beautifully.

Those who do not yet know Mahler through and through will benefit greatly from this performance. Mahler connoisseurs, and there are many, can connect the loose ends in a beautiful way. Writer and director Vieveen has done just that, when at the end the symbiosis between the two lovers takes beautiful shape in a separate arrangement of Mahler 10. For that, you really have to come and listen.

The play will soon be performed before an audience of psychoanalysts. As an outsider, that strikes me as an awkward venue, especially since Freud does not come off very well in this history. Anyway, little more remains of his contacts with Gustav and Alma Mahler than an invoice for a walk through Leiden. But he does play a starring role in this piece, which you can therefore also order for your own living room.

Appreciate this article!

If you appreciate this article and want to show your appreciation with a small contribution: you can! This is how you help keep independent journalism alive. Show your appreciation with a small donation!


Why donate?

We are convinced that good investigative journalism and expert background information are essential for a healthy cultural sector. There is not always space and time for that. Culture Press does want to provide that space and time, and keep it accessible to everyone for FREE! Whether you are rich, or poor. Thanks to donations From readers like you, we can continue to exist. This is how Culture Press has existed since 2009!

You can also become a member, then turn your one-off donation into lasting support!

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

Private Membership (month)
5 / Maand
For natural persons and self-employed persons.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Own mastodon account
Access to our archives
Small Membership (month)
18 / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of less than €250,000 per year
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
All our podcasts
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Posting press releases yourself
Extra attention in news coverage
Large Membership (month)
36 / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of more than €250,000 per year.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Share press releases with our audience
Extra attention in news coverage
Premium Newsletter (substack)
5 trial subscriptions
All our podcasts

Payments are made via iDeal, Paypal, Credit Card, Bancontact or Direct Debit. If you prefer to pay manually, based on an invoice in advance, we charge a 10€ administration fee

*Only for annual membership or after 12 monthly payments

en_GBEnglish (UK)