About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Other Mozarts

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Friday was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's birthday. He's 256 now. In conjunction with his birthday two bloggers, one at Operavore and one at Thoughts on a Train, wrote about two members of the family, Wolfgang's sister, familiarly known as Nannerl, and his mother, Anna Maria Pertl Mozart, who are mostly in the background when we think about Wolfgang's life and work.

According to most sources on Mozart, Nannerl, his older sister, was possibly as talented as he. Certainly she was a gifted performer, touring all over Europe with her brother and father when the two were children. However, as they got older, Wolfgang continued to soar as a musical genius, while Nannerl fades from view. What happened? Fred Plotkin, author of the blog post Nannerl Mozart: Born Too Soon, quotes from the Grove Dictionary of Music that "from 1769 onwards she was no longer permitted to show her artistic talent on travels with her brother, as she had reached a marriageable age.” So Nannerl married and disappeared from view.

Now, however, there is a new movie, Mozart's Sister, and at least five novels about Nannerl, three of which are titled Mozart's Sister. All are fiction based on some facts. The most recent is Mozart's Last Aria, in which Nannerl tried to solve the mystery of Mozart's death after not having seen him for many years.

Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart
We know from the family letters that Nannerl did compose music, though none was performed under her name and all of it is now lost. Though close to her brother in childhood, once he married Constanze, the siblings became distant. Both Nannerl and Leopold, their father, disapproved of Constanze. Nannerl also married and had three children. Later in life she taught music in or near Salzburg, and became friendly with Constanze and Constanze's second husband.

The Mozart's mother, Anna Maria Pertl Mozart, is an even more shadowy person. She accompanied the family on the early tours, but stayed at home with Nannerl when Leopold decided to take only Wolfgang. She went with Wolfgang on a trip to Paris and became sick and died there. Now she, too, has a novel about her life. Dick Strawser's blog post, A Novel about Mozart's Mother, recommends the novel, Stitches in the Air by Liane Ellison Norman, and discusses the little that is known about Mozart's mother. Her father was a musician, and the family was quite poor, in part because her father died when she was four. She married Leopold Mozart and had seven children, only two of whom survived. There are a few clues in letters from Leopold and Wolfgang that she had some musical education and perhaps even composed music.
Anna Maria Pertl Mozart, mother of Wolfgang and Nannerl

There is another shadowy Mozart who I have become interested in recently. Franz Xaver Mozart was the youngest son of Wolfgang and Constanze and another musician. Only two of the children born to Constanze survived infancy. Karl Thomas was the elder of the two children. Both boys were talented musically and studied music. Karl eventually gave up music as a profession and went into government service in Milan. Franz Xaver played both violin and piano, like his father. He began writing music when he was quite young, like his father, and gave a recital of his compositions when he was 13 years old.  In addition to using his given name, he also went by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (sohn). Quite a few of his compositions survive, including a trio for flute and two horns, 6 Piccoli Pezzi, which my daughter performed while studying in Vienna last year. I was interested in the  unusual instrumentation and in learning a piece by the son of Mozart. So, with the help of friends I was able to get a copy of the music. We hope to perform it later this year. 

Franz Xaver Mozart
It must have been terribly difficult to work as a performer and composer in the shadow of his father. Franz Xaver is said to have been introverted and self-deprecating, the opposite of his famous father. Yet he made the choice to work in music, composing and playing piano and violin. There don't seem to be any novels about Franz Xaver yet, though he does appear in some of the novels about Nannerl.

Such an interesting family. We are endlessly fascinated with the genius -- popping up in the midst of generations of competent musicians. I recommend the two blog posts -- they are very interesting.

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