It was in 1910 that the famous composer and conductor Gustav Mahler determined that his young wife, Alma Schindler Mahler, was having a torrid affair with Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius. The discovery followed on from the death of Mahler’s beloved four-year-old daughter, a diagnosis of heart disease and his quasi-forced resignation as director of the Vienna Court Opera. Believing himself on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Mahler sought the counsel of Professor Sigmund Freud.

The historic meeting took place far from Vienna at a famous restaurant, In the Gilded Turk, in the Dutch city of Leiden. Mahler had made the long train journey for the explicit purpose of undergoing psychoanalysis.

While exact details of the conversation between the composer and the psychoanalyst remain a mystery, it is known that the most pressing topic on Mahler’s mind at the time was his wife’s infidelity. And, of course, in order for the psychoanalysis to be performed, it would have been necessary for Mahler to speak of his known-to-be difficult childhood. Shaped by poverty, domestic violence and the deaths of seven of his 14 siblings, the young Mahler had witnessed his father beating his mother and was often forced to flee into the...

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