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
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:
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,
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
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
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.