As a pianist, I’ve always had a fond appreciation for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. At my monthly piano recitals growing up, I would gaze in awe at the high school students as their fingers glided over the keys playing Mozart sonatas. Eventually I got to study and play Mozart piano sonatas, and, in college, I got to learn even more about him through an inter-disciplinary Mozart seminar that focused on his life, times, and compositions.
One of my favorite discoveries about Wolfgang was that he had an incredibly musically talented sister, Maria Anna (fondly known as Nannerl), who not only was his favorite playmate as a child, but was one of his biggest musical influences later in life.
So who is Nannerl and what kind of impact did she have on her brother’s musical future?
Nannerl, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s sister, had a large effect on her brother’s musical development and output. Nannerl’s wild imagination and playfulness made the long touring trips around Europe more exciting for Wolfgang. Although she was five years older than Wolfgang, Nannerl fostered his creativity and imagination by playing pretend with him on their trips in their made-up world called the Kingdom of Back. This sibling playfulness lasted into Nannerl’s twenties, as she and Wolfgang wrote letters to each other using multiple languages, word plays, and riddles.
In addition to Nannerl fostering an imaginative and funny side of Wolfgang, she served as a skillful musical role model for Wolfgang. Because Nannerl was a talented musician in her own right, she and Wolfgang were able to make music together, exchange ideas for musical compositions, and share compositions with each other. Wolfgang recognized his sister’s talent and knowledge, and often included his thoughts on her compositions in his letters to her. Many times, Wolfgang composed piano solos and duets specifically for Nannerl and sent them in the mail to her.
When Mozart was about 18 years old, for example, he wrote piano sonata in D, K381, which was a duet he composed specifically for his sister to play with him. It is noted for being “punctuated with wit and cheeky humor,” and reveals some of that playfulness the two of them shared. See Jane Glover’s book “Mozart’s Women: His Family, His Friends, His Music.”
Nannerl’s story reminds me of the importance of developing and feeding a big imagination, which can serve as inspiration for future artistic creations. Her influence on her brother’s life as a composer also shows how valuable it can be for artists to have friends and/or family with whom they can share parts of the creative process.
How are the people around you influencing or impacting your creative process?