A MOZART IN SKIRTS, says the headline in a French paper, trumpeting the release of the new film Nannerl, la soeur de Mozart (Nannerl, Mozart’s Sister). I can’t wait to see it (with subtitles, mind you), and I hope it finds an American distributor tout de suite. Wolfgang Amadeus was a god in my family: I was raised on him, bathed in him, taught his music as other children learn prayers. My grandmother wrote a kids’ biography of Mozart and dedicated it to me and my brother. One of the pieces my pianist mother loved most was the Rondo in A Minor; a friend performed it at her memorial service and now I can’t listen to it without crying.
Nannerl (a nickname for Maria Anna) was Mozart’s older sister, also a gifted musician, and together they were presented like trick ponies to the royals of Europe by their father, Leopold (ever the villain of the Mozart family saga). The movie focuses on their visit to the French court (which really happened, in 1763) but is full of imagined romantic intrigues, including Nannerl dressing up as a boy à la Cherubino. There are hints in Wolfgang’s letters that his sister composed, too, but Leopold apparently refused to acknowledge or instruct his daughter, and when she got too old to be a prodigy (in the film she is 14) she stayed home in Salzburg. I am not in the habit of trolling history for victims, but it’s clear that talented girls, instead of being nurtured, too often were barred, broken, married off. When I was growing up, 200 years later, they were still being funneled into “safe” jobs—vital but low status—like nurse, secretary, teacher.
I’m not sure I will be able to see this film without crying.