Linked throughout her life to famous men – among them Gustav Klimt, Alexander Zemlinsky, Walter Gropius, Franz Werfel, and of course her first husband Gustav Mahler – Alma Mahler was much more than a passive muse. Intelligent, witty and beautiful, she was also musically gifted in her own right. When she married Mahler at the age of 22, she was forced to give up composition as a condition of their union; fortunately, Mahler reversed this decision some years later on seeing how unhappy his wife was without a creative outlet. He even helped to edit and publish her songs, and it is this small but diverse collection of the works published in her lifetime that makes up this CD. Drawing on various poets – including Richard Dehmel and Rainer Maria Rilke – Alma's songs explore themes of love and loss as dramatic as her personal life. Harmonically daring, saturated with large, weighty chords and sensitively scored for piano and voice, the short pieces represent the peak of the late‐Romantic experience.
Performers Catharina Kroeger and Monica Lonero have long championed female composers and performers, particularly those previously disregarded or neglected, such as Alma Mahler. They previously collaborated on the musical theatre piece Frauen – Donne, focusing on music by women. As such, they have also included a new piece of music by contemporary composer Patrizia Montanaro on this album; an innovative work for soprano-actress based on Penelope by Italian poet Rosaria Lo Russo, which imagines the anger of Odysseus's wife Penelope on his return after 20 years of absence.
Re-evaluating Alma Mahler's controversial reputation is possible through what Sarah Connolly terms 'the only real thing we have of hers' – her music. Alongside a celebration of the achievements of women in music today, this release is a testament to what female composers can accomplish, despite the odds.