It must be rare for a popular song to have such a lasting influence on a posthumous reputation. However, this is the case with Tom Lehrer’s deliciously satirical tribute, ‘Alma’. Reading Alma Mahler’s obituary in 1964 — the ‘juiciest, spiciest, raciest’ he’d ever come across — Lehrer was amazed by her matrimonial CV and proceeded to immortalise it in a catchy lyric.
Not only had Alma been married three times, to the composer Gustav Mahler, to Walter Gropius, the founder of Bauhaus, and, finally, to Franz Werfel, author of the runaway bestseller The Song of Bernadette, she’d also managed to bag as lovers some of the top creative men in the Europe of her time. Gustav Klimt had given Alma her first kiss, while her relationship with the Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka was ‘one fierce battle of love’, full of explosive sexual power.