Female musicians today are not told or made to believe that they cannot achieve the same level of success as their male counterparts simply because of their gender. Women today are piano teachers, choir directors, composers and professional performers, making a huge contribution to the world of music. There’s no reason for a little girl that loves music to believe she cannot be a successful musician.

female musicians
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

However, this has not always been the case. During Mozart’s time, women were not encouraged to become musicians, regardless of their talent. In fact, only noble women were allowed to share their compositions with the public. While men could live off their music, women that made money off their music were considered prostitutes.

Women were still being thought of as less than, and that they should keep their place in the home taking care of the family. There was even a discussion of whether a woman could create. One critic I read in my research said a woman would not be able to have children if she created art, because she would use up her creativity. There were very strange thoughts at the time about women and about them creating. Via Huffington Post

Sylvia Milo set out to tell the story of Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart, the sister to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who was just at least as skilled as her brother as they grew up. The two would tour Europe together as children, but this would change as Nannerl grew into womanhood.

In some cases, Nannerl was actually described as the superior musician. But as she grew into a young woman, it was no longer “proper” for her to play. As their father Leopold nurtured Wolfgang’s talents and toured with him through Europe, Nannerl was left behind to learn to sew and find a husband. Via Huffington Post

Mozart family
Leopold Mozart with his children Wolfgang and Nannerl at the piano, the portrait of their deceased mother on the wall.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

Milo’s composed the play The Other Mozart, from her research of the Mozart family letters. She discovered that Nannerl actually received very positive reviews about her playing.

One said, “Imagine an eleven-year-old girl, performing the most difficult sonatas and concertos of the greatest composers, on the harpsichord or fortepiano, with precision, with incredible lightness, with impeccable taste. It was a source of wonder to many.” That is an actual quote specifically about her and not Wolfgang. There are others from friends and newspapers, as well. Via Huffington Post

While accompanying his children on their tours, Leopold Mozart, their father, would report to his friends about what happened. He would also share with his children his astonishment at people’s reaction to their performances.

Nannerl would later be left at home while her brother toured with her father. She once sent them a composition she had written, to which her brother said, “I cannot believe that you compose so well, it is beautiful.”

Based on the reviews she discovered during her research, Milo believes that Nannerl was actually better than Mozart. This would also make sense since she was older than him. Although they started piano together, she would have likely caught on faster. In terms of her composing, the only suggestion of her talent is in her brother’s praise.

So was it her father’s fault that Nannerl did not pursue music?

The Piano Lesson
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

It was a combination of so many factors. In Wolfgang’s biographies, sometimes people mention her. Mostly they blame the father for neglecting one child and focusing on the other. And I understand why: he was a boy. He could have a paying position at a court and take care of his family and take care of his sister. It was actually expected of him to take care of his sister in adulthood if she didn’t marry.

…the family was not a noble or rich family. They were in a middle class position. They borrowed a lot to go on those tours. They risked everything trying to promote Mozart, so they could be lifted up by him. The decisions that Leopold made were absolutely logical. They made sense for the survival of the family. I don’t blame him one bit actually. Via Huffington Post

Thankfully, women today have much greater opportunities to pursue music. Even so, there’s still much more to be done, as Emily Feld argues:

We need to teach others that the works of Clara Schumann, Nadia Boulanger, Meredith Monk, and Jennifer Higdon are worth listening to—and not just because they are women in a male-dominated field. You don’t have to like their music (just like you don’t have to like Mozart or Philip Glass), but you have to acknowledge its role in the history of Western music. Via Classical MPR

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