Maria Anna Mozart, nicknamed Nannerl, was the older sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and his only sibling to survive infancy. In all accounts, she is only an episode in the biography of Mozart, a “fact” from the great composer’s early years.
However, on many accounts, growing up, Nannerl, having been older, was more talented, experienced and, perhaps, even more musically gifted than her brother Wolfgang. Nannerl played harpsichord since she was 7 years old. With her father Leopold she traveled all over Europe, giving performances with her prodigal younger brother. At 11, she played the most difficult sonatas and concertos. Miracle babies, Nannerl and Wolfgang captured and fascinated European capitals, and, more often than not, Nannerl was considered a brighter star than young Wolfgang.
“Imagine an eleven-year-old girl, performing the most difficult sonatas and concertos of the greatest composers, on the harpsichord or fortepiano, with precision, with incredible lightness, with impeccable taste. It was a source of wonder to many.” Augsburger Intelligenz, May 19, 1763.
However, by the standards of the time, the life of a performer wasn’t “right” for a girl, no matter how gifted. Thus their father Leopold continued to nurture the talents of Wolfgang and tour Europe with him while, after three years of touring, Nannerl was left behind. She had to learn sewing and housekeeping — her future was to find a husband, marry, have children, sew, embroider and keep the house. Kinder, Küche, Kirche — the three Ks of a good German woman. And not only German, no matter how you pronounce the three Ks.
Women were still being thought of as less than, and that they should keep their place in the home taking care of the family. There was even a discussion of whether a woman could create. One critic I read in my research said a woman would not be able to have children if she created art, because she would use up her creativity.
There were very strange thoughts at the time about women and about them creating. It was even argued that women don’t create the child, that it is the men who create the child and the women only carry the child in their belly. I mean, it is astounding. ( Sylvia Milo in the interview about her one-woman play, “The Other Mozart.”
Nannerl married a magistrate Johann Baptist von Sonnenburg, 15 years her senior, twice a widower. The couple moved to the home of her mother in St. Gilgen. Johann Baptist already had five children from his two previous marriages. Nannelr bore him three more.
After her husband’s death, Nannerl returned to Salzburg. She continued to offer piano lessons, enjoying a great esteem and respect among the residents of this city. Her diaries, letters and memoirs remain an invaluable source of information and insight for numerous biographers of her brother, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
“The Other Mozart” by Sylvia Milo is a play inspired by Nannerl’s vast epistolary heritage.
Also, in 2010 premiered the French film Mozart’s Sister (French title: Nannerl, la sœur de Mozart) written and directed by René Féret.