Gustav Mahler, Chris Cornell and Helmut Berger died on 18 May. That day is a bit the day of the dead.
On 18 May 2023, Helmut Berger died. Perhaps his best performance was the title role in Visconti's Ludwig II, in which Berger gave a gripping portrait of the Märchenkönig: the king of Bavaria, maecenas of Richard Wagner, without whom there would have been no Ring des Nibelungen and no Festspielhaus in Bayreuth (see also this article).
Helmut Berger is only one of many who died on 18 May. The day links the deaths of Gustav Mahler, Chris Cornell and others but we'll start with a birthday ...
On 18 May 1883, Walter Gropius was born. On 18 May 1911, on Gropius' 28th birthday, the man with whose wife he had an affair with died. Gustav Mahler knew about Alma's affair with Gropius and his dismay at it he scribbled down in the margin of the score of his 10th symphony. Almschi! Für dich zu leben! Für dich zu sterben! Written with death in prospect and a wife who was unfaithful to him. The composer/conductor's mind was one that was in an overheated state in the last stage of his life. On his deathbed, Mahler had asked for a jar of ants to be placed next to the bed. The swarming of the little critters was supposed to distract his mind from the agony his body was going through.
In founding Bauhaus, Walter Gropius wanted to pull architecture out of the realm of art so that it would focus on functional and accessible designs. You could call him the spiritual father of IKEA.
More threads of destiny converge on 18 May. On that day in 1980, Ian Curtis hanged himself. Just before Joy Division was to leave for America for a tour and just before the band was to release its second album. The last film Curtis (you don't have to wait for death to tear us apart, love already does) watched was Werner Herzog's Stroszek. A film that premiered almost on 18 May (on 20 May 1977). Life apparently is extra hard on 18 May because on that day in 2017, Chris Cornell was found dead in a hotel room in Baltimore. He had just finished a gig with his band Soundgarden (their best record Badmotorfinger is a badass beneficial massage for eardrums and soul).
It was at Gustav Mahler's special request that, after they would have determined death, they would stab him in the heart with a pen to prevent him from being buried alive. Being buried alive, a primal fear, especially in the pre-intensive care era, is a subject central to many a horror story and at least one song cycle. Lebendig Begraben is a song cycle written by Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck based on 14 poems by Gottfried Keller. The cycle depicts the thoughts of a man who is mistakenly buried alive after falling into a coma and being declared dead. And Dieter Fischer Dieskau, the legendary German Lieder Singer who died on 18 May 2012, gives one of his most impressive performances here (see clip in link).
- Wouter de Moor