Ecstasy

Ecstasy

In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few...

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Title:Ecstasy
Author:Mary Sharratt
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Ecstasy Reviews

  • Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede

    I saw the movie Mahler by Ken Russell a couple of years ago. Well, it's so many years ago that I don't really remember much about it. But, it was my first introduction to Gustav Mahler and his wife Alma. So, when I saw that there would be a book about Alma Mahler was I instantly interested. I was thrilled when I got a copy of this book to read.

    Just think of what Alma Schindler could have achieved if she was born decades later when a woman could be much more than a wife and a mother. She dreamed

    I saw the movie Mahler by Ken Russell a couple of years ago. Well, it's so many years ago that I don't really remember much about it. But, it was my first introduction to Gustav Mahler and his wife Alma. So, when I saw that there would be a book about Alma Mahler was I instantly interested. I was thrilled when I got a copy of this book to read.

    Just think of what Alma Schindler could have achieved if she was born decades later when a woman could be much more than a wife and a mother. She dreamed of becoming a composer, but her mother and stepfather (mostly stepfather) didn't think higher education would be something for her since she was a woman and wasting money on an education for her was nothing he wanted since his opinion was that her role in life getting married and have children. Alma, however, wanted to compose, to be something. Then, Gustav Mahler enters her life, and she falls in love with him. However, he demands that she gives up her music to dedicate her life to their marriage and his needs. And, she does that. She suffocates the part of herself that loves music, but how can she be complete when part of her, the creative part of her has to be subdued? When her life is only to be a wife and mother? It doesn't, and it's just tragic that when they finally find themselves true to each other, Gustav and Alma is time running out for them...

    This book would have been at least twice as thick (or more) if Mary Sharratt has written about Almas whole life, not just her marriage to Mahler. And, I would have read it. I loved the book from the very start. I loved getting to know Alma Mahler, this extraordinary woman that had such a fantastic life. I loved how Alma finally has come out of the shadows of the famous men she was married to. To show the world that she was a great composer as well.

  • Kris Waldherr

    Read an advance copy of this and loved it. I've been fascinated with Alma Mahler every since I first learned of her life years ago—ECSTASY captures the romantic intensity of Alma's life. Bittersweet and compelling. More to come closer to publication.

  • Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader & Traveling Sister

    ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

    (Last vacation review, I promise! 😉)

    In college, I had a poster of Klimt’s painting, The Kiss, hanging on my dorm room wall. It was sultry and magical. My love for art and art history was sparked by my beloved high school art teacher. I think she saw a lack of confidence in me, and in retrospect, I feel she took every opportunity to bring that out. I yearn for books about art as a result, especially in my favorite genre, historical fiction. All of that to sa

    ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

    (Last vacation review, I promise! 😉)

    In college, I had a poster of Klimt’s painting, The Kiss, hanging on my dorm room wall. It was sultry and magical. My love for art and art history was sparked by my beloved high school art teacher. I think she saw a lack of confidence in me, and in retrospect, I feel she took every opportunity to bring that out. I yearn for books about art as a result, especially in my favorite genre, historical fiction. All of that to say, when I saw Ecstasy’s cover and the synopsis, I knew I had to read this book.

    Set at the turn of the twentieth century in Vienna, Ecstasy is the story of a most-intriguing woman, Alma Schindler. Daughter of an artist, Alma is not only a brilliant pianist, she is a talented composer. She has the opportunity to seek further training to become a star composer, but her mother would not let her because she was female.

    Alma’s first kiss was by none other than Gustav Klimt. She later marries Gustav Mahler, a composer, who forbids her music and wants her to be a wife and mother. Married for many years, Alma and Mahler have an up and down marriage, but Mahler is quite obsessed with Alma. She has an affair with Walter Gropius, a famous architect, and later moves on to Franz Werfel, novelist and poet. Schindler has each of these men entranced with her. She is the muse for each and probably the greatest love.

    Ecstasy is very much about Alma’s coming of age during a time when women had strict expectations, but culturally and creatively, an era of possibility was simultaneously opening up, and Alma fully embraces it. She is a woman ahead of her time, testing the boundaries that try to contain her, jumping over them, and flourishing with possibilities that she creates for herself.

    Alma Schindler had a full life, and in reading her life’s story, I had to be patient with the details and settle in to this book. When one woman is a composer, an author, a daughter, a mother, a wife, a lover, and a muse for various artists, there is much content to be shared! I found Alma enchanting and energizing, and I wish that more people knew her story.

    Thank you to Mary Sharratt, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Edelweiss for the ARC. Ecstasy will be released on April 10, 2018.

  • Elyse

    “Let’s raise our glasses to Alma Maria Schindler, Fran Zuckerandl said, who has turned the rest of us poor women emerald with envy. Not only is she the most beautiful girl in Vienna, and that’s quite bad enough, she’s also a brilliant pianist. That’s infuriating. But on top of it all, she composes!”

    Alma’s mother was pregnant with Alma ‘before’ she married her famous painter father, Jakob Schindler. She tells Alma that she ‘had’ to get married. Alma was in love with a man named Alex Zeminsky - a

    “Let’s raise our glasses to Alma Maria Schindler, Fran Zuckerandl said, who has turned the rest of us poor women emerald with envy. Not only is she the most beautiful girl in Vienna, and that’s quite bad enough, she’s also a brilliant pianist. That’s infuriating. But on top of it all, she composes!”

    Alma’s mother was pregnant with Alma ‘before’ she married her famous painter father, Jakob Schindler. She tells Alma that she ‘had’ to get married. Alma was in love with a man named Alex Zeminsky - a poor man. Alma’s mother literally forbid her daughter to choose her own husband.....she did everything she could to stop the romance between she and Alex. Her mother told Alma about her childhood of poverty, and the financial struggles during the early years of marriage to her father.

    Alma ‘was’ conflicted. The pressure of how Alma should live her live was constant.

    Mother had two wishes for Alma:

    1- that she didn’t marry for money without love

    2- that she didn’t marry for love without money.

    Alma had two wishes for herself:

    1- that she didn’t have to sacrifice her art for Love

    2- that she didn’t have to sacrifice love for for art.

    Alma wanted to give herself completely to a man and she wanted to give yourself completely to music. She wished to be a composer - of the great symphonies. She had the talent and practiced diligently.

    At age 19, when Alma received her first kiss by Gustav Klimt- it was so passionate- physically- and soulfully - (the author did a lovely job conveying this young girls ‘awakening’ experience of lust & passion)....that Alma knew that to deny herself a life without love would be as painful as to deny herself with music ( which was already her lustful passion).

    Having ‘both’ - love and her independence to follow her dreams - as a female in the 19th/20th century, was a complicated matter.

    The man she married - Gustav Mahler- wanted her to regard his music, be his wife, but not his colleague. He didn’t want Alma to be a composer because he was one.

    Alma knew if she married him, and carried on composing behind his back, it would still destroy her creative spirit.

    Alma’s final thinking - before marrying Mahler.... was is that the only way there was any hope of distinguishing herself and doing anything remarkable at all in life was to marry a great man and share his destiny. I WANTED TO DIE AT THIS MOMENT in the novel....scream at Alma. I saw her spirit breaking - understood her thinking -but was sad.

    Much more storytelling to come — and tensions keep building.

    The book is about 400 pages - but reading flies by. I knew next to nothing about Alma Mahler and her excruciating battles of the times both from society & those closest to her. I learned a lot and enjoyed the journey.

    I absolutely loved reading this historical novel. I was transported back to this period. There’s interesting history, personal storytelling, drama, passion, Love, conflicts, and the music. Just delightful!

    Thank You to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Netgalley, and Mary Sharratt

  • Audra (Unabridged Chick)

    I knew, from the previous novels of Sharratt's that I've read (the astounding

    and fascinating

    ) that I would love

    -- even though I feared the story of Alma Mahler's life would frustrate me. However, I should have trusted that Sharratt would somehow manage to make me not just enraptured of/with Alma but also the people in her life, including the frustrating Gustave Mahler.

    Alma Schindler is beautiful and clever, growing up in Vienna's glittering world

    I knew, from the previous novels of Sharratt's that I've read (the astounding

    and fascinating

    ) that I would love

    -- even though I feared the story of Alma Mahler's life would frustrate me. However, I should have trusted that Sharratt would somehow manage to make me not just enraptured of/with Alma but also the people in her life, including the frustrating Gustave Mahler.

    Alma Schindler is beautiful and clever, growing up in Vienna's glittering world of art and intellect. She composes and wishes to devote herself to music, but aspires to a passionate love as well. She eventually marries Gustave Mahler, a genius who demands she give up her composing and devote her entire self to his art. The cost, unsurprisingly, is enormous.

    This probably sounds miserable, but Sharratt somehow manages to make it deeply compelling and kind of understandable. In this time of Lean In and #hustle, Alma's frustrated struggle resonated with me; the compromises she made I could appreciate. Sharratt's portrait of Alma is empathetic and sensitive, as are the other figures in Alma's life -- including Mahler. 

    As with her previous novels, Sharratt's skillful narrative creates sense of place and era in a vibrant but unobtrusive manner. So much of who Alma is comes from her life in late 19th century Vienna and the story combines Alma's inner world and emotional turmoil with a glittering swirl of parties, concerts, and exhausting hikes (thanks to Mahler). I might not have wished to live the life Alma did, but I understood how and why she made the choices she did.

    Alma is a divisive figure among Mahler fans (there's an "Alma problem", apparently) but I couldn't help but think of the current revelations from Hollywood that many a "difficult" actress was actually a woman who refused unwanted sexual advances. Sharratt offers another so-called "difficult" woman a new narrative, one that I welcome. (And, as Sharratt says in her

    with me, "Alma totally passes the Bechdel test!" which is another welcome narrative: women as inspiration, colleagues, friends, and allies rather than competition.)

    Another knockout read from Sharratt. This one harder for me than her others: Alma got such a raw deal, however willingly and clear-eyed she went into things. I was strongly reminded of

    for it's lovely -- and maddening -- evocation of a complicated woman and the men controlled and impacted her life.

    Longer review to come.

  • Cathy

    Read more reviews like this, plus fascinating author interviews, exclusive guest posts and book extracts, on my blog:

    Alma is beautiful, passionate and independent-minded, fond of poetry, drama and literature and a talented pianist. She also shows a talent for composition and harbours an ambition to be recognised as a composer of her own music. However, she is prevented from following her dreams by the constraints of society and the expectations placed on

    Read more reviews like this, plus fascinating author interviews, exclusive guest posts and book extracts, on my blog:

    Alma is beautiful, passionate and independent-minded, fond of poetry, drama and literature and a talented pianist. She also shows a talent for composition and harbours an ambition to be recognised as a composer of her own music. However, she is prevented from following her dreams by the constraints of society and the expectations placed on her of marriage and motherhood. It’s a time when women’s talents and achievements are downplayed or, worse, characterised as ‘unfeminine’.

    Alma’s admiration for composers and artists of the day is reciprocated by, amongst others, Klimt and Zemlinsky. They are attracted by her beauty and her lively conversation. Neither of these are suitable marriage prospects, however, and by the time she is twenty-one, Alma feels in ‘stasis’, unfulfilled and overwhelmed by an awakening sexuality that she is unable to express. Her only solace is in music.

    Enter Gustav Mahler, the renowned conductor and composer who is as entranced by Alma as she is with his musical talent. However, when his offer of marriage comes it is accompanied by a condition that will mean Alma sacrificing her own ambitions for her husband’s work and career. Despite the age difference, warnings from those close to her and her own misgivings about the bargain she is making, Alma accepts his offer of marriage. Heartbreaking tragedy, illness and separation from friends and family will make Alma’s and Gustav’s marriage at times a tempestuous affair. As Alma’s mother notes: “Love and marriage. It’s so much more complicated than people realize.”

    I really enjoyed Ecstasy, not least because, in one of those moments of serendipity, I attended a concert of Mahler’s Second Symphony a few nights before starting the book. Described in the programme as ‘monumental’, it’s certainly epic. With the biggest orchestra I’ve ever seen, including some offstage, a symphony chorus and two soloists, the composer throws in pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. However, we didn’t have the five minute pause between the first and second movements that Mahler insisted on for its first performance, which Alma witnesses in the book.

    There’s something I find fascinating about reading of the lives of women who married famous men, albeit fictionalised accounts, because, in almost all cases, it strikes me they were often just as accomplished, if not more, than the men they married. Yet, like, Alma, they were expected to channel their talents into supporting their husbands, being the perfect hostess and doting mother. Reading Ecstasy made we wonder if great talent, like that of Gustav Mahler, can ever excuse selfishness and the often casual disregard for those around them.

    This is a book rich in historical detail and I loved the way the author evoked the sights and atmosphere of turn of the century Vienna (a city I have visited and really loved) and its musicians, artists and poets. I also found engaging Alma’s wonder at the sophistication of New York when she and Gustav travel there to pursue his career. As the author notes in her afterword, Alma led a full life even after the events covered in the novel. I can only agree with Mary Sharratt when she writes: ‘The deeper I delved into Alma’s story, the more complex and compelling her character revealed itself to be.’

    I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in return for an honest and unbiased review.

  • Julie

    Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt is a 2018 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publication.

    This story is a fictionalized accounting of composer and pianist Alma Schindler’s life during the period she was married to famed composer Gustav Mahler. As a condition of her marriage, Alma promised her husband, she would give up her own music and channel all her passion for music through his compositions and successes, which eventually takes her down the path of depression and melancholy, and into the arms of another ma

    Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt is a 2018 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publication.

    This story is a fictionalized accounting of composer and pianist Alma Schindler’s life during the period she was married to famed composer Gustav Mahler. As a condition of her marriage, Alma promised her husband, she would give up her own music and channel all her passion for music through his compositions and successes, which eventually takes her down the path of depression and melancholy, and into the arms of another man.

    Vienna…

    It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of story I’m reading- if Vienna is the location- It immediately puts me into an entirely different mood. There is just something so atmospheric about it, so romantic and steeped in incredible history- especially from an artistic standpoint. This book was no exception. I willingly allowed myself to fall dreamily into the angst ridden, highly dramatic, often tragic life of Alma Schindler Gustuv. Alma was a talented composer, someone who swore she would never succumb to traditional married life, always putting her music first- until she fell in love with Gustuv Mahler.

    This story follows the impulsive Alma as she struggles through her teenage years, where she copes with the way her mother demurs to her new husband, and the addition to their family of a younger brother, as well as her sister’s struggle with mental illness. While Alma's often petulant and selfish, she is also a great romantic and feels things deeply.

    She falls in and out of love easily enough, but did seem to have a tremendous depth of feeling for Gustuv who was more self -absorbed than Alma ever thought of being. Despite his dismissive attitude towards her, she lives for those periods of great passion between them. It was an amazing journey Alma took, as she suffered from discontent, boredom, and pent up creative power that left her frustrated and badly in need of release.

    The story and the marriage between Alma and Gustuv reads like a musical composition at times with staccato and legato, diminuendo, and crescendos, Molto and Sempre, melody and harmony. I enjoyed the high drama, I must say. If this had been a strictly fictional book, I may have rolled my eyes at some of the intense emotional turmoil Alma was always on the verge of, thinking it just a little bit too melodramatic or over the top, but since this story is based on true events, it proves that life often is packed with more high -pitched angst than we want to admit. Artists of all forms seem more prone to those fits of agony and mania, but I’ll keep this in mind the next time I become exasperated by an overwrought heroine.

    I also enjoyed Alma journey back to the place where she was able to take charge of her life and music again, was able to express herself musically and artistically, feeling more fulfilled and more independent, perhaps learning that lesson the hard way. In the end, Alma was more of a trailblazer for women than she is credited with, eventually leaving behind her own musical legacy, despite her continual attraction to men driven by their careers.

    Many of you, myself included, will want to know more about Alma’s life after reading this book. It is interesting to note, that she often maintained her role as muse, becoming the subject of plays, books, and movies. While there are plenty of resources to choose from, the truth of Alma’s life is often speculative, elusive, and the subject of much debate.

    This is quick, fascinating read, I found to be quite interesting and very absorbing.

    4 stars

  • OLT

    Author Mary Sharratt has a mission: " Writing women back into history." In 2012 she focused on 12th-century Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen in ILLUMINATIONS, showing us a woman expected from a young age to submit herself quietly to God but who refused to lose her identity completely and was a composer, herbalist, mathematician and feminist of her times. In 2016 I read THE DARK LADY'S MASK about Aemilia Bassano Lanier, writer and poet, believed to be William Shakespeare's love and an unrec

    Author Mary Sharratt has a mission: " Writing women back into history." In 2012 she focused on 12th-century Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen in ILLUMINATIONS, showing us a woman expected from a young age to submit herself quietly to God but who refused to lose her identity completely and was a composer, herbalist, mathematician and feminist of her times. In 2016 I read THE DARK LADY'S MASK about Aemilia Bassano Lanier, writer and poet, believed to be William Shakespeare's love and an unrecognized collaborator on several of his plays.

    Now Sharratt has turned her attention to early-1900s Vienna and Alma Schindler, daughter of famous artist Emil Schindler. Alma is beautiful and musically talented. Men are drawn to her. She received her first kiss from Gustav Klimt. Max Burckhard, Joseph Olbrech, Felix Muhr and others flirted with her, some may have proposed marriage. Alexander von Zemlinsky was one of her musical mentors and her first serious love, whom she might have married if not for two reasons: (1) He was too poor to please her mother, and (2) She met more famous Gustav Mahler and was overwhelmed by him.

    So somewhat star-struck, Alma chose to marry Mahler, even knowing that he, unlike Zemlinsky, who encouraged her talent, would expect her to have only one profession after marriage: "...to make me happy...You must surrender yourself to me unconditionally." And she does. But from then on we watch Alma suffer and lament her choices. Sharratt has done extensive research to write this story of Alma's unsatisfying, artistically-suppressed life with Mahler. Not only using information from biographies, she has also mined the words of the two main characters themselves in Gustav Mahler's LETTERS TO HIS WIFE and Alma's 1940 memoir, GUSTAV MAHLER: MEMORIES AND LETTERS, in particular.

    Using all this research, Sharratt has painted an extremely detailed picture of 1900s Vienna and the world of music and the arts. This makes for an interesting read. What doesn't work for me is the tediousness of having to listen to Alma's laments and complaints over and over, time after time. We are supposed to believe that her dissatisfaction is the result of unfulfilled dreams of artistic growth and professional recognition. And, yes, there was the legitimate complaint that Mahler did not take her talents seriously, but the whinging woe-is-me attitude that came across in this book was more a "boo-hoo, he doesn't really love me enough or appreciate me and all I do for him."

    And he didn't. He was an egotistical, self-absorbed man. When he ignored Alma, she was unhappy and looked for attention elsewhere. When he noticed her, she wasn't and didn't. This felt not so much like artistic dissatisfaction as personal love life dissatisfaction as presented in Sharratt's story.

    This book basically ends with the death of Mahler, followed by a very few pages sketching her later life and artistic endeavors. Mahler died in 1911. Alma died in 1964. I would have enjoyed reading more extensively about Alma's years when she was no longer living in Mahler's shadow, the time when she seemed to come into her own. As it is, this book dwells so long on the Alma-Mahler relationship that it often felt more like a melodramatic romance novel than historical biographical fiction.

  • Amy Bruno

    Author Mary Sharratt on Blog Tour for ECSTASY, April 10-May 18!

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