Mozart’s Sister, by Nancy Moser, is the story of Mozart’s older sister, Nannerl. Told in the first person in the style of an autobiography, it tells of the Mozart family’s life beginning with their international tours as children, up to Mozart’s death at age 35. Throughout, we experience the particular feelings and frustrations of Nannerl, whose talent was overlooked because of her gender. The story is in fact a rather sad one, of a woman always in the shadow of her controlling father and genius brother, denied both the musical career and the normal life of marriage and family.
Mozart’s Sister is an interesting and easy reading, with its combination of biography and a narrative with characters and dialogue. The main characters are developed quite well (father, mother, Nannerl, and “Wolfie”), but other characters come and go and are not as clearly developed. But such should be expected, as the focus on the family members reflects the historical research, in which more is known about the Mozarts than the other people they interacted with.
The author does an excellent job with the historical research, presenting a story as true as possible while filling in the gaps of what is known and not known in the Mozart family history. As the author notes at the end, she took advantage of the great collection of letters from the Mozart family; much of the dialogue comes straight from the actual letters. The setting of late 18th century Europe, and the larger context of events going on in England, France, and Austria, is also well established. Names of nobility are mentioned and introduced throughout--some names well known today, such as Marie Antoinette, due to what would happen to them in later years. Other names, including the political leaders of Austria and even the musical and political leaders of Salzburg, where the family resides when not traveling, are less familiar; these names of nobility and leadership complete the picture of the broader, political landscape of Europe especially during the 1760s through 1780s. Opera is of course a big part of music at the time, and the book gives some attention to these great music events in Italy as well as Vienna, Austria.
As with most “biography” stories, the best parts are early on, the person’s childhood. Later on, the story tends to drag at times, especially as Nannerl tends to be rather morose and moping. Still, the story has great educational value, an entertaining way to learn more about this great classical music composer and his family. As a “Christian” story, though, it is rather on the weak side, since the topic involves somewhat nominal Catholics with glaring character faults. Nannerl has some sense of God and religion, and accepts “God’s will” for her life, but the story overall lacks the specifically evangelical Christian themes that are more easily presented in other fictional settings.
Mozart’s Sister is still an enjoyable read, a great way to learn the untold story of this forgotten woman, Mozart’s older sister, and the particular trials and challenges she endured.