Welcome to this house, where my brother was born. Look around you at the comfortable room that my late husband the Baron has provided for me. Feel the warmth of the crackling fire. As my maid serves you fine tea from China, see the light gleaming on the polished silver and the fine Dresden porcelain we inherited from his mother.
I never want for food or care. Yet who would guess that once I played for the crowned heads of Europe, sitting at fine gilt harpsichords next to my little brother as we wove tapestries of brilliant sound? Who even remembers that Mozart had a sister?
You've probably come to ask about Wolfgang. Most people do. For many years, I was afraid he'd been forgotten, but now that the old composer Salieri is dying, people have become curious about his earliest rival.
My brother had many rivals. His sharp tongue and sarcastic humor earned him enemies, and even worse, he refused to scrape and bow as musicians were forced to do in his day. Court intrigue blocked his every attempt to secure a permanent job to support his family. Everyone knows he died poor and thinks it was because he was a careless drunkard. He did love luxury, but he was no fool. Last year in Vienna, Salieri was even accused of murdering him out of jealousy. But poor old Antonio said on his deathbed, “I did not poison Mozart,” and I believe him.
One day when Wolfie had no money to buy firewood, he and his wife Constanze danced crazily around the room with blue lips and chattering teeth, trying to keep warm. He took on the insane task of writing an opera and a requiem at the same time to earn a few badly-needed guineas.
It's strange what opposite directions our lives have taken.
When I was a little girl, Papa used to sit me on his lap and teach me music at our little Klavier in Salzburg. For my fourth birthday, he copied out a notebook of minuets I'd learned to play.
"Bravo, Nannerl," he would exclaim. "My musical one, you will go far." He and his musician friends would exclaim in delight when I played, my legs dangling beneath my ruffled gown.
Then HE was born. On a chilly night in January, Mama moaned behind closed doors and brought forth a tiny baby with a long name— Johann Chrysostomos Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart.
At first my brother was a bit like a puppy with his eyes closed all the time. All he did was puke and cry. I did not find him very interesting, and much preferred our real puppy, Bimperl. My parents seemed to like him well enough, though.
When Wolferl grew old enough to walk, he grew especially annoying. He would interrupt my music lessons and try to plink on the keys. Papa gently chased him away, but one day something strange caught his ear.
"Oho, what have we here? Listen, Nannerl."
"What?" I pouted. I just wanted my brother to go away.
"He's playing your minuet!"
And indeed he was. Not perfectly, but his tiny fingers were carefully pecking out the main theme in recognizable form. When he was done, Papa scooped him up, laughing in delight.
"Again, Liebling!" He sat down with Wolferl on his lap, pushing me aside, and the two of them spent the afternoon at the Klavier. From then on, Wolfgang received lessons as well.
Papa's friends convinced him there was money to be made with his Wunderkinder, his wonder children. Papa began to have visions of gold dancing in his head. When Wolferl was six and I was ten, we launched our first tour of Europe. Mama came along that time, and we had a wonderful time seeing the sights as we rode through Linz and down the Danube River to Vienna.
We went to Holland, to London, to Paris, falling asleep to the familiar rumble of carriage wheels. We stayed in dark sinister inns, sharing a flea-ridden mattress and shivering in the cold. Mama tried to make jokes and keep our spirits up, but it wasn't easy. Papa counted our coins and scribbled in his ledgers. Our money was running out fast.
In Paris we weren't paid at all, but were allowed the privilege of standing behind Louis XIV and Madame Pompadour at dinner. Despite their dazzling gowns and high elaborate wigs, the people at court smelled horrible. Parisians considered bathing unhealthy in those days, so people wore layers of cologne. We Salzburgers, who bathed every week, had to struggle not to hold our noses in the famous halls of Versailles.
So passed our childhood. Sometimes it was exciting, other times it was exhausting and dull. We would come home to Salzburg and delight in the fresh mountain air and romp with Bimperl. It felt so good to sleep in our own beds! Then Papa would pack us up again.
By the time I was twelve, Papa began to leave me behind. Though I had mixed feelings about touring, I hated being left behind without Wolfgang. I had hoped to learn how to compose as he did, but my early efforts were ignored. All Wolferl had to do was spill a concerto onto the page and everyone hailed him as a genius. Later, of course, we knew he was. But I was never given a chance to prove myself.
I’ve composed ten piano piano sonatas, six violin concertos, a symphony and even an opera, Aphrodite. But the ink is fading and I doubt you could read them.
Would you like to see them? I thought not. My eyesight is poor and my memory is fading too.
I’ll tell you a secret. I composed Wolfie’s first minuets. Those marvelous miniatures, hailed as works of genius by a precocious prodigy of six. No one would believe that the female brain could conceive of such complex beauty. I was a seasoned ten-year-old and not nearly as interesting.
Here’s the clue that those first works were not by Wolfie. Papa insisted that we sign them “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart” on the manuscript. “Amadeus” means "God's love” in Latin. Although that’s how he is known to posterity, Wolfie himself never really took the name seriously. He would tease me, saying “I’m God’s gift to mankind. You were shat by a sow.”
At times like that I wished I could have thrown him off a cliff. It’s a wonder he survived to adulthood! Nay, I do but jest. In childhood we were best friends. Only when he married that dreadful woman did we drift apart.
I have advice for you young people. Don't be afraid to go out into the world. Let yourself be heard, whatever your passion is. Don't pass away unknown, as will I. Perhaps someday people will learn that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a sister, and her name was Marianne, whom her family nicknamed “Nannerl.” Remember me.
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I always think historical stories are so hard to pull off and you did such a nice job. Well done.
Thank you for your kind remarks, Kevin! I enjoyed your story “A Disturbance on the Austrian Line.”
Thank you so much.
Hi Swan, I got this story from the critique circle. That's nice because it gives me good stories outside of my usual fare. But if it's for the circle I have to be thorough. Your verbiage is appropriate and the story has a comfortable flow. There is a point where you repeat piano. I think that's a mistake but I'm not sure. It is very well written and I look forward to reading more of your work.
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PS (“Mae” is my real name)
I was so engrossed in this, the injustice is making my blood boil. Well done for creating a piece so strong that it could do that. Amazing, I loved it.
Thank you, Sharon I feel as if I was channeling Nannerl’s anger and fire. I’m glad you felt it too!
I absolutely loved this story. I read the book Marrying Mozart and Mozart's Sister but I like this story much better. Nannerl got a raw deal in the days where girls and women were practically invisible and if she had talent, it probably would be swept under the rug if a brother even had an inkling of promise. Don't worry we are rooting for Nannerl, tell her better days are coming in the minds and hearts of all readers. Thank you!
Thank you very much, Kathryn! I’ve read both of those books and have always been fascinated by Nannerl. Her father really did suppress her and also kept her from marrying a young lover. There’s another whole story! How many works by women have been lost to history!
I saw a movie with Merle Oberon called "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" and Elizabeth Barrett had an overbearing father that practicallly wouldn't let her out of the house.
So sad and so common even nowadays. Anne Brontë wrote a novel suggesting that women be allowed to choose whom to marry. It was revolutionary!
Charming historical fiction. Great work, Swan.
Thank you for kind comments, Bruce! I appreciate your reading about Mozart’s almost-forgotten sister.