Mystery about a Sister


Be prepared to read about a woman’s story, one which may or may

not have been relevant and meaningful to the musical world. I feel

there is a true basis and possibility that she made a big difference in

how her famous brother became who he was. I have to admit, I was

on my  own personal “movie fest” over the weekend. Originally I was

thinking, I would just post some of my favorites and give short film



Somehow, this evolved into something ‘bigger’ than I expected. It

was time-consuming and yet, I felt like a private investigator with

her mind open and ready for understanding and analyzing the facts.

I looked up, using different sources, to find out more about this

fascinating woman.


Now that I may, or may not, have your attention, I will tell you the

riveting movie that led to my research.



“Mozart’s Sister,” a French film which needs you to read the sub-titles.


In the movie,  which came out in 2011, Rene Feret is the director

and a young actress who is his daughter, Marie Feret, plays the

sister to her character’s famous younger brother. Historical details

that were  discerned through research shall follow this summary of

this fine movie.


First, here are three splendid comments from famous reviewers,

starting with one who’s deceased.  Roger Ebert, “Chicago Sun-Times,”

was always one of my favorite reviewers. He is such a trustworthy

man to recommend movies.

(Of course, many of you will recognize his name and the television

show which I used to enjoy- “Siskel and Ebert at the Movies.”)


Here is what Roger Ebert said of, “Mozart’s Sister:”

“Marie Feret is luminous.” (in this role.)


David Noh, “Film Journey” says:

“A triumph!”


Ronnie Scheib, “Variety” Magazine:

“A treat for classical music lovers and cinephiles alike.”


What was a turning point in this movie which motivated me to

investigate and research?

What happened to make me seek the truth?


When Leopold Mozart, father of Maria Anna (also referred to as

Marianne and affectionately known as, “Nannerl”) tells his only

daughter when she is interested in writing musical compositions,

“Harmony and counterpoint are not understood by women.”


Of course, this caused me to say indignantly to my television screen

which was innocently displaying the film,

“That’s outrageous!”


Big sister, “Nannerl,” is helpful to toddler brother, “Wolfie,” and

helps him practice his keyboard lessons on a harpsichord. This

baroque instrument is lovely sounding. The scales and other early

beginning lessons are closely supervised by their father.


At age 5 or 6, “Wolfie” is paraded in front of wealthy families and

is also given an audience with royalty. He is a cute boy and shows

great potential and musical aptitude. The film shows Wolfgang

using creative interpretation of the music and dramatic arm

flourishes. He was supposedly beginning to write his own musical

compositions at age 4 or 5.


In the beginning of the movie,  their coach’s wheel breaks after

going over a rut in the country road. It is late and the Mozart family

stays in a nearby nunnery. It is interesting to note that there are

two sisters living there. Their story emphasizes the difference in

the way male and female genders were treated in this period of time.

The two girls have been shuffled and taken away from the palace,

being raised by nuns.


At one point, there is a name mentioned of the two girls’ brother,

who is being raised to be a ‘Royal.’ The part that Maria Anna plays,

and is asked to carry out a charade, is to transport a letter to their

brother, if the Mozart family should be ever happen to appear at

Court. Anna Maria treasures this new friendship and promises to

keep the letter safe and take it to their estranged brother.


This movie would engage someone who has been enjoying the inner

workings of the staff and upper class levels or tiers of British society

on the PBS show, “Downton Abbey.” Although this is a whole other

period of time, there are still the ideas of class structure and family

expectations being expressed. Definitely, it is an eye-opener in both

the film about the late 1700’s and the television series of the 1900’s.

Traditions and historical details about clothing, customs and roles

women and men played also are featured in both of these storylines.


At the end of the film, there is not much said about Nannerl’s  being

anything but helpful to her brother.  There are no illusions that she

may have helped Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart compose his greatest



In the movie’s middle,  there is a nice romantic interlude, where

Maria Anna disguises herself as a boy, in a white-haired wig, to give

the hand written letter to the young Monarch from his sister. They

use the young man’s title in the film as ‘Louis XV.’ This story becomes

a very sweet part of the movie. I will not tell you about how it unfolds,

hoping you will someday pursue viewing this one. I will say it depicts

Nannerl’s character as having spunk, showing independence and also,

her romantic side.


Before the credits roll, there are a few sparse details given. The written

lettering after the movie ends mentions Maria Anna helped to write

some of her own sonatas as a young woman. It mentions she helped

Wolfgang transcribe his first writings, since he scribbled them. There

is a subtle undertone of the possibility that she was his ‘muse.’  As his

sister, she may have written (created) some of his early works.


The movie has places that explain traditional upbringing of “fine young

ladies.” The women are encouraged to wait on men, not to further their

education. Maria Anna tries to ‘rock the establishment.’ Her mother has

disappointment and her father shows anger for her independent streak.

She doesn’t wish to follow the social order of the period. I was rooting

for her, all the way!



If you enjoy history and reading about a famous person’s family,

you may enjoy this part of the post. . .


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived from January 1756 until December,

1791. There is confusion about why he died at such an early age of 35.


He was the son of a musician and teacher of music, Leopold Mozart.

His mother was named Anna. He was born in Salzburg, which later

became part of, or known as,  Austria. Wolgang’s father and mother

had seven children, only two that lived beyond infancy. The oldest

living child was a daughter named Maria Anna, nicknamed, “Nannerl.”

There were four years between the two children, sister and brother.


When Wolfgang was 3 years old, his sister was learning her lessons,

which included language, music and reading. She was practicing

with her brother close by her side. Later, she would be by his side,

while he was the one leading the lessons. This relationship lasted

probably all of their childhood. “Wolfie” was her little shadow,

trying to do everything she did.


There is a notebook that Leopold made for Maria Anna, which is

known as “Nannerl’s Notenbuch” or also written as, “Notenbuch

fur Nannerl.” In English, this was “Nannerl’s Music Book.” This

amazing composition book demonstrated the first lessons that

Leopold gave to her, along with her brother. It consists of only

(originally) 48 pages, now only 36 pages remain.  This book has

her father’s exercises for her practicing beginner harpsichord

pieces. This also included anonymous minuets and some of her

father’s  original  works.  Two composers,  Carl P. E. Bach and

George C. Wagenseil, had their pieces transcribed as passages

in this musical exercise book.


In 1982, a man (just a coincidence) named Wolfgang Plath

studied the handwriting within the Notebook and attributed

the variety to consist of five different handwriting samples

or sources. There are evidences of the collaboration between

Leopold, the father, and his son, “Wolfie.”


Leopold took his family touring around countries and the cities

of Vienna, Austria and Paris, France. Maria Anna Mozart was

born in 1751 and lived 78 years, until 1829. When she became a

young lady, it was considered inappropriate for her to continue

to publicly play the harpsichord, piano or sing. Up until she was

18, Maria was part of her musical touring family. A biographer

considered her to be a great singer and an,

“Excellent harpsichord player and fortepiano player.”


Sadly, there is no mention about Nannerl being a conduit, or

letter transporter, between the sisters raised in a nunnery and a

member of Louis XV’s “Court” or “Royalty.”  This was the main

part of the plot I enjoyed in the movie I reviewed earlier.


At age 18, Maria Anna went home to Salzburg with her mother,

to teach musical lessons and stay at home. The following reason

was mentioned in one source,

“This was due to her being of marriageable age.”


Wolfgang and his father both wrote letters to Maria Anna which

some have been saved. Wolfgang during the 1770’s, was touring

in Italy and mentioned Nannerl’s writing musical compositions

and Wolfgang goes so far as to ‘praise her musical works.’


There are no references in her multiple letters from her father

to any of her own musical compositions in his correspondence.


An interesting note (and slightly salacious fact) is mentioned

in some of the biographers’ notes about Maria Anna’s and

Wolfgang’s close, intimate relationship. When they were young,

they developed a “secret language” and they had an “imaginary

kingdom.” They pretended they were married and carried out

their positions while playing together, as “Queen” and “King.”


There are a few indications and there is evidence of Wolfgang’s

using sexual wordplay which he used in other letters to his

lovers or girlfriends. This can be found also in the words he

chose and were included in his writing to his sister. One

historian considers this to be a ‘strange relationship’ for a

sister and a brother.


As an aside, my two brothers and I would play ‘house’ but

we would not have myself be the “mother” and one of my

brothers be the “father.” We would instead play that one of

the brothers was the “father” and other brother and I were

his “children.” Like the old television show, “Family Affair,”

where the uncle has “Buffy” and twins “Cissy” and “Jody.”

(I used to love this show, with Sebastian Cabot playing the

butler/nanny and Brian Keith playing the bachelor uncle.

did you know it ran from 1966 until 1971?) Or I would play

the ‘mother’ role and the brothers were my ‘kids.’ We usually

had company or neighbors over.  Once in awhile, they would

‘marry’ one of my girlfriends, or once in awhile, I would ‘marry’

one of their guy friends. I mention this to confirm that I would

also think it strange that the siblings played ‘Queen and King’

together over a Kingdom.


A sad note about Maria Anna’s independence shown in the

movie, “Mozart’s Sister.” This is not to be found anywhere in

any biographies or any letters. She is shown to be subservient

to her father, allowing him to forbid her to marry a man named,

“Franz d’Ippold.”  They were both young, he was a Captain and

a private tutor. When he proposed, there is an implication she

would have liked to say, “Yes.”  There is a letter in the family’s

collection where her brother, Wolfgang, tried to persuade her to

stand up to her father. Ultimately, Maria Anna was ‘forced’ to

turn down Captain Franz d’Ippold’s proposal.


Years went by, Maria Anna was allowed to marry at age 32, when

asked by a man named Johann Baptist Franzvan Berchtold  “un

Sonnenburg.” They were  married in 1783.  Listen to the “fun” life

Maria Anna participated in:  She became the wife of a widower

with five children she helped to raise. She had three more of her

own children with Johann. When she had her first born son,

she named him Leopold. Her father insisted on taking the her

only son to raise him in Salzburg at his home. The biography

doesn’t mention her mother’s role in this drama. From 1785

until he died in 1787, Leopold Sr. wrote letters and in a journal

telling about his toilet training Jr. and teaching him how to talk.


There was no mention of the boy’s illness nor a reason why he

should not have been raised as a baby until age 2 by his own

mother.  There is some speculation for her father’s thinking he

would raise another musical prodigy. Since he felt he was the

reason Wolfgang A. Mozart turned out the way he did.


After all, Leopold Mozart, Sr. did write and publish a violin

music textbook.



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was known for his classical

musical compositions, which included over 600 works.

They include symphonies, concertos, operas and choral



Beethoven, while young, lived in the shadow of Mozart.

During his early years composing his own original music,

he was constantly compared to Mozart’s body of work.


Composer, Joseph Hayden said of Mozart’s legacy:

“Posterity will not see such a talent in another 100 years.”


Wolfgang A. Mozart married Constanze and had two sons.

He died at the early age of 35 years old.

His magnificent “Requiem” was never completed.

His music is still revered and considered the best in classical



Maria Anna was never given any credit (that I could find out

about) for her influence on her brother’s music nor were any

of her musical compositions published. The book, “Nannerl’s

Notenbuch” is not considered to be anything but her lesson

book to practice and play music using the hand written



I need to see the movie, “Amadeus,”  (again) to see if there

are any musical or notable references to his sister. If you

have a good memory or recently seen this, let me know in

the comments whether there is mention of Anna Maria

Mozart please.


I strongly recommend, “Mozart’s Sister” as a film to savor

and enjoy, while wishing the story line really happened.


Truthfully, being an older sister myself, how could “Nannerl”

NOT have had an influence upon her little brother, “Wolfie?”


Either way you look at this famous musician’s life,

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart made a huge impact

on the musical world.









28 responses »

    • I have not seen “Amadeus” for awhile, which makes me curious about the family dynamics and relationships, Jenny. Thanks for thinking it was interesting! I appreciate this!

  1. I saw Armadeus some time back, so I can’t be of any help. Such a detailed review Robin, you do go to a great deal of work and spend much time researching. Quite fascinating…and I’m sure Maria Ana helped him 😉 thanks for the information hun. x

    • I am so glad you will check out the French movie, which was interesting in itself, a father directing his daughter in a role where she may feel controlled… I will need to see if “Amadeus” is available for the weekend, if only to study it more carefully. I think I saw that when I was a busy single mother and probably just relaxed feeling the story and music ‘pour over me,’ Colleen! ha ha! Different ages lead us to different perspectives and interests, too!

      • I will be curious to see how I see Amadeus after all of these years as well.

        And interesting indeed about the father directing the daughter in a movie about a daughter who was quite controlled by a father in a time when daughters did not seem to be as valued.

      • Thanks for seeing this irony of director and daughter, wondering if this strengthened their own personal relationship, Colleen. One can only hope!

    • I sleep between 6 and 7 hours a night, hoping for 8 on weekends. I have to admit they did mention in a sleep study, where people should ‘Not set their alarms’ and test to see when you wake up. I am almost always awake before my alarm clock goes off. They do say this is not good for our old brain cells, but I honestly cannot sleep 8 or 9 hours, ever! Jill, when I go to my Mom’s she sleeps about 9 hours, I wake up, sneak down and try to get on the computer. If it is busy or occupied, I go grab our breakfasts and take them back to her apt. I read the paper and also, books while she sleeps!
      Thanks so much for finding this review ‘wonderful’ and I appreciate if I don’t put anyone to sleep! ha ha!

      • Ha ha! No, I doubt it put anyone to sleep. 🙂 I wish I could sleep more than 6 or 7 hours. I always wake up before my alarm goes off…and it’s set for 4:00 am.

      • I am like you, again! We tend to be able to rouse ourselves with our inner clocks at an early hour, Jill. I tried to sleep in and was so restless yesterday and today, in the mornings. smiles!

    • Thank you for understanding how I do tend to start a few different threads when I write. Sorry, I have a good friend, Barb (“Silver in the Barn” blogger) who tends to call me a ‘bumblebee.’ I really tried to stay on one subject, smiles! This time, at least! Thank you, Sheila for reading and finding it interesting!

  2. oh, i will try to find this! it sounds right up my alley. thank you so much for the research too, i love to fill in the blanks after a movie about real people too) you are my detective and movie sister, too –

    • We do like those challenging movies, like the one you sent me to the library and they had to search to find a city in Ohio who had the one about the complete opposites of the poles. I have already forgotten the ‘new’ word you taught me, but never will forget those exact opposite locations in the world, their unique and beautiful cultures and scenery, too. I hope you will be able to find this movie in your foreign films section, Beth! I bet you will love it!!

  3. Au contraire, Robin (le bourdon.) Boring is one thing you are not! This is a fascinating glimpse into an untold part of Mozart’s story. I hadn’t heard about this movie, so I’m so glad to read about this. Of course, I immediately googled the movie trailers and it looks Outstanding! I loved Amadeus and I’m sure I’ll love this one too. Thank you.

    • I am glad you looked up the movie trailers and they confirm my belief this is a treasure of a movie, Barb! I have to wait for the copy of “Amadeus” to come back to the library, but shall re-watch this with a different set of eyes, Barb! I love they way you said, not boring and used the words, “a fascinating glimpse into an untold part of Mozart’s story!” Wow! This could be a the words on the ‘cover’ of this DVD, Barb! Hugs, Robin

  4. I’m adding this film to my Netflix queue. Have you seen Camille Claudel? The theme seems very similar- hugely famous artist and his relationship with the woman who contributes greatly to his craft. And it’s French.

    • I would enjoy “Camille Claudel,” I shall see how easy this one is to get at our local library! I am looking forward to seeing this one, too. Subtitles don’t bother me when the subject matter is so interesting. This reminds me of the plot of “Big Eyes” about the artist whose husband took credit for the artwork. I am sure you have heard of this Amy Adams new movie, she is being nominated for different awards for it, as the male actor, his name is harder to remember is, too. Thank you for the recommendation.

  5. I will look for “Mozart’s Sister” at the library. It sounds incredibly well done. I am basing that on your review, of course. I would never have run across this title without your insight. – Mike

    • I was happy to pass on a worthwile movie to see. If subtitles don’t bother you, as they don’t bother me, it is a good one to watch at home. If there is a point you need to look back, it is nice to be able to pause it and go backwards. I found the history and the story of the Mozart family very interesting, Mike! Thanks for your supportive comments and hope you and Florence enjoy this one. My oldest daughter watched it awhile back on her NetFlix, which I had to wait to see it from the library. They say I have to wait until “Amadeus” comes back to see it over again. Sending you smiles and hope you are having a great week, Mike!

  6. Fascinating research! I didn’t realize Mozart had a sister…I am certainly going to check out that movie. Where did you find it to view it? Netflix? Women have been so brutalized in this world…and still are! It will be a wonderful day when each gender can appreciate the other for their giftedness and not feel the need to control the other person. Humanity has a long way to go. I read about Einstein’s wife—she also contributed greatly to “his” genius and when he received recognition, he wanted her to be included but was told that he could not bring her to the stage. She ended up in an insane asylum–I secretly think society could not accept her brilliance and so they put her away!

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