Rated of 5
Mozart’s Sister by Rita Charbonnier (Crown) is the story of Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart, or “Nannerl,” to her family, who was like her famous younger brother a child prodigy. Unlike Wolfgang, with whom she was in childhood very close, Nannerl’s talents were quickly channeled into teaching, in lieu of composing and performing, to support her brother’s career. Unlike Wolfgang, she remained close to her domineering father and obeyed his wishes, even in her romantic life.
The premise of Charbonnier’s imaginative novel is that Nannerl resented her lot bitterly, that she struggled to repress her love of music, and that this denial of her gifts led to her estrangement later in life from Mozart. Charbonnier’s power of invention stretches further to explain the mystery of the Mozart siblings’ estrangement by having the self-centered, dissipated young Mozart trifle with Nannerl’s favorite student, who is the daughter of her first fiancée d’Ippold (whom in fact she renounced at her father’s insistence).
Charbonnier’s “interpretation” of the historical record, scant on this intriguing sister and brother, make for an extremely lively novel in the romantic tradition. Opening with her mother’s labor pains (and cursing) at a court performance as five-year-old Nannerl placidly receives accolades for her performance at the harpsicord, the novel flashes from one graphic scene to another, leapfrogging over months or decades in cinematic fashion, with frequently shifting viewpoints. It’s all vivid and melodramatic. Whether you like it or not will depend upon how much it troubles you when, for example, an 18th-century gentleman says, “Get lost!” And how much you want your characters to offer a convincing interior life.