Discussion of Mahler and his music in the context of eroticism is rare. He is often personally contrasted with his wife Alma in terms of cultural interests and behavior. Evidence reveals, however, that he was more romantically experienced than Alma indicated at the time of their marriage. Mahler’s music seems less overtly erotic than that of many of his important contemporaries. But he spent a career bringing some of the most sexually charged operatic repertoire to the stage as conductor. His patriarchal views on the idea of “Eros” as having both bodily and spiritually creative aspects were strongly influenced by Goethe’s allegory of the “Eternal Feminine.” At the time when the marriage showed signs of breaking down in 1909–10, triggered by an absence of libido and eventually leading to a consultation with Freud, Mahler turned to a more intensely chromatic harmonic idiom in the Ninth and Tenth Symphonies. Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, ideas of the “Common Eros” and the “Heavenly Eros” deriving from Plato’s The Symposium, and the Wunderhorn song “Verlorne Müh’!” (1892) provide ways of understanding this stylistic shift and the exalted erotic at play in Mahler’s music.

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