- Yet another story of women erased from history

Personal, Feminism

I studied classical music at a prestigious university for about 3 years. At that time, it never occurred to me to question why almost all if not all composers we studied were male. I ended up dropping out for reasons that had nothing to do with that to start a new career on Information Systems / Computer Science.

Last weekend I went to a web development conference at Salzburg, called concat. The conference was on saturday, but I actually arrived on friday. After about 20 hours taking different trains to get there, I decided to take a look at the town. I knew that was where Mozart was born so I figured I would take a walk through Mirabel’s garden and visit one of his houses before I checked in at the hostel.

The first surprise was right after leaving Mirabel’s garden. At the corner near to its exit, by a dumpster behind a building, wet with the snow from yesterday, was a small treasure. Boxes full of books. Music books. Mozart sheets. That’s just how he’s famous. Famous, known and accessible enough that beautiful books with his beautiful music are just thrown at the garbage, instead of kept as relic or given away to someone interested. The truth is anyone can find good quality Mozart’s sheets pretty much anywhere. On the internet, scanning someone else’s books, libraries, etc. So yea, I guess the original owners thought old books with some fungi just weren’t worth keeping anymore. I actually thought this would be a great souvenir from my travel. A Mozart’s book from Mozart’s town. So I got a few, threw in my backpack and continued my walk.

Mozart’s house is now a small museum. I got a ticket, the audio-guide and went through seeing the old instruments, paintings, old objects, you know the drill. And it was there, at this small museum, that I discovered something that left me speechless. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was not an only child. He was not the only musician child. He was not even the only musician prodigy child. Yeah. He had a sister, Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart, also known as Nannerl, five years older than him and also a prodigy child. I was shocked. I had never heard about her. How was that possible? At the beginning I thought I was stupid, I must have missed some classes. I had no idea but there had to be a logical explanation for this. Then I started asking some friends and realized none of them had heard about her either. I was sad.

Their father, Leopold, a professional musician with a stable career, taught both his children how to be excellent musicians. He enjoyed very much exhibiting them at courts and such. Nannerl and Wolfgang spent their childhood performing together. They were also very fond of each other. Both of them composed their own pieces. When Nannerl got to the “marriage” age, however, she was forced to abandon her career. It was not very well seen for a woman to travel around being so independent. Her younger brother was allowed to continue. Famous and acclaimed Wolfgang traveled around Europe on various occasions, joined the academia at Paris, spent years in Italy, lived in Viena. Nannerl stayed at Salzburg. While still being an excellent musician, she found comfort in giving Piano lessons and only local recognition. Wolfgang acknowledged her talent and used to send her his compositions for critique before publishing them. None of her compositions were published as far we known and none of them survived until today. I honestly wonder if some of Wolfgang’s compositions weren’t actually composed by Nannerl, much like the suspicions some experts have already gathered that some of Johann Sebastian Bach pieces were in fact composed by his wife, Anna Magdalena. Nannerl had 3 children, helped raise 5 stepchildren and died blind at Salzburg at age 78.