Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Maria Anna Mozart, the First Mozart Prodigy

Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart (died 29 October 1829)

The older sister of Wolfgang Amadeus, Maria Anna Mozart was born in Salzburg on 30 July 1751. 

A portrait of the child prodigy
Maria Anna Mozart, c. 1763
Although it's Wolfgang Amadeus who is now recognized as a musical prodigy, Maria Anna was also taken on musical tours of European cities, from London and Paris to Munich and Vienna, often receiving the top billing for her performances as a harpsichordist.

As Elizabeth Rusch notes, it was Maria Anna who was "the family's first prodigy," praised as "virtuosic" and a "genius."

Brother and sister toured together for three years--by Rusch's calculations, they performed in eighty-eight cities. 

In 1764, while their father was ill and needed quiet, Wolfgang is said to have dictated his first symphony, Maria Anna taking his dictation and serving as his copyist, though she is known to have been a composer herself, and Mozart mentions her work in letters to her. 

But at age eighteen, Maria Anna Mozart's touring days ended, her career effectively over. No longer a child, she was no longer accepted as a public performer. According to an account of Maria Anna Mozart in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, "from 1769 onwards she was no longer permitted to show her artistic talent on travels with her brother." Maria Anna conformed to social and paternal expectations, but she didn't marry until 1783.

After her husband's death in 1801, she worked as a music teacher.

None of her compositions survives.

There is a children's biography about Maria Anna Mozart, For the Love of Music: The Remarkable Story of Anna Maria Mozart, but no full-length biography for adult readers. You might enjoy Rusch's essay for Smithsonian, "Maria Anna Mozart: The Family’s First Prodigy," which I've quoted here, as well as this NPR story about a 2011 film about Mozart's "silenced sister," which you can access by clicking here. The film is called, simply, Mozart's Sister (there's a trailer at the NPR website). There are also quite a few novels about Maria Anna . . .

One of the resources I love to hate, as you will know if you've been following this year-long project, is the Encyclopedia Britannica. As you might guess, there is no entry for Anna Maria Mozart. The only mention of her comes in the article for her brother: "His mother, Anna Maria Pertl, was born of a middle-class family active in local administration. Mozart and his sister Maria Anna ('Nannerl') were the only two of their seven children to survive."

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