Last week, I was in the mood for a quick, easy read as a break from some heavier reading. This fun, historically-based novel did the trick. The author got much of her material from letters the Mozart family wrote and cataloged over roughly two decades of travel and performing.
As a young child, I was greatly influenced by the love for classical music held by my great-grandfather, grandfather, and mother. When I got my first stereo in 4th grade, I listened to tapes of classical giants, like Mozart and Chopin, as well as contemporary geniuses, like New Kids on the Block, Boys II Men, and Mariah Carey. For all of my learning and interest, I never realized that Mozart had a sister…or that he was a self-absorbed jerk. The renown of some tends to separate them in the public eye beyond the bounds of average human life: having a family, having a childhood, being a jerk, and so on.
Even in a book told from the point of view of his sister, Nannerl Mozart, little Wolfie (Wolfgang Amadeus) overshadows her. As a precocious five-year-old, Wolfie is tender-hearted, a little outspoken, and leaps into the laps of royalty for hugs after his performances. As he grew in age, he grew in talent–sadly, he did not grow as much in maturity. For years, his well-meaning and extremely proud father, Leopold, told Wolfie he was “God’s gift to music.” One can only go so long hearing such things before believing it, internalizing, and living it out in one’s actions and words.
Nannerl was Wolfie’s elder by six years, and though believed to be equal in talent to Mozart, was not regarded or groomed as such by her father. It seems her talents were not considered as impressive because she was older and because she was a girl. Rather than being encouraged to compose like her brother, she was told that she needed to spend her time practicing. Her practice, however, was not always rewarded with opportunities to showcase her talents at concerts. As children, she and Wolfie would perform duets, but as adolescents, Nannerl was left at home while her brother and father toured. The excuse was that it was too costly for the family of four to travel.
Much of the Mozart story revolves around money–or the lack of it. Leopold was forever preoccupied with sharing his son’s musical genius with the world, providing for his family, and securing a permanent, paid position for Wolfie. He sacrificed much, was indefatigable, and burned some important bridges along the way. Nannerl and her mother were also expected to sacrifice much. Wolfie seemed very unaware of what sacrifices were made on his account and went into adulthood unwilling to make any sacrifices in return. Perhaps the saddest part of the story was when Nannerl, the aging woman with few prospects of marrying, was denied the opportunity to become the wife of a man she truly loved because Wolfie pissed off her fiancees boss. It would be challenging to forgive a brother who did something like that.
If you’re looking for something more meaningful than a romance novel but not super challenging intellectually, give this book a shot. Be prepared for whatever good impressions you had of Mozart to be ruined with reality.
**Sorry there’s no book image…I tried ten times and it’s just not working.