Being Nannerl: In the Shadow of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Listen to the Story

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (middle) composed a piano concerto for he and his sister, Maria Anna Mozart (left), to perform together.(Photo: Gemälde von Johann Nepomuk della Croce)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (middle) composed a piano concerto for he and his sister, Maria Anna Mozart (left), to perform together.(Photo: Gemälde von Johann Nepomuk della Croce)

If you’ve ever had a sibling who was an all-star athlete, a math whiz, a chess genius, a musical prodigy or a stark raving beauty, then you know that talent isn’t distributed on the basis of need. You also know that those tremendous gifts can cast long shadows and obscure nearly everything else of merit around them.

When I came across Mozart’s Concerto in E flat for two pianos and orchestra recently, I was reminded that such a dynamic might have played out between Mozart and his sister, Maria Anna – “Nannerl” as he called her.

Mozart composed his two-piano concerto specifically so he and Nannerl, a strong keyboardist and composer in her own right, could perform it together.

Somewhere along the line, Wolfgang’s musical talent was fostered, Nannerl’s was not.

Maybe the distinction was imposed by the different sets of expectations the Mozarts’ society had of men and women, namely that men work in the world doing whatever they need to do and women work in the home caring for husbands and children.

Or maybe Wolfgang’s talent was just too large for anyone else – especially a sibling – to get around. We’ll likely never know.

Haunted by this question, I voiced a “Mozart Minute” several years ago for WOSU about Nannerl’s life:

[audio src="http://wosu.org/audio/classical/2011/020211-Nannerl.mp3"]

I would like to think that Nannerl and Wolfgang did perform his two-piano concerto at some point in time.

And I’d like to think that for at least that moment in time, Nannerl and Wolfgang shared top billing.

Not necessarily because her talent was as great as his – we must admit that it might not have been; rather, because she had her own gifts to give the world.

And maybe in that concert she had a chance to give them.

Comments