Gustav Mahler. Photo: Leonhard Berlin-Bieber

In July 1910, the fifty-year-old Mahler—at the apex of his renown and creative gifts, despite the omnipresent threat of heart disease—discovered that his wife Alma had begun a passionate affair with the young Walter Gropius. Subsequent decades proved that for Alma’s husbands, cuckoldry constituted the job description’s sine qua non (Tom Lehrer devoted one of his most mordant lyrics to this fact), but Mahler understandably reacted with raging anguish, aggravated by bewilderment that Alma should have shucked her helot status. “You must,” he had announced before their marriage,...


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