Mozart's Sister depicts great talent lost to sexism

July 31, 2011

Mozart’s Sister
Starring Marie Feret, directed by Rene Feret
In cinemas now

Everyone has heard of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who first achieved fame as a child prodigy composer ferried around the great courts of late feudal Europe by his domineering father on a never-ending tour.

Little is known of his older sister, Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia, known by her nickname, Nannerl.

She was at least his equal as a harpsichordist and piano player ― and possibly his equal on the violin and as a composer.

Apart from scattered references in correspondence, it is impossible to know because their father, Leopold Mozart, felt that the violin was a man’s instrument and that women should not compose.

Eventually Leopold married Nannerl off to an Austrian baron and she spent her life teaching music and collecting her famous brother’s musical scores.

If for no other reason, she deserves honour for saving Mozart’s works for posterity.

Now Rene Feret in Mozart’s Sister  has imaginatively surveyed a few important years in Nannerl’s life as she moved into adolescence, experienced the beginnings of sexual desire and faced up to the pressures of her sexist society.

Beginning in 1763, as the family bumps around in a carriage from one manor house to another, through beautiful snow-draped forests, the story revolves around Nannerl’s interactions with the son of Louis XV.

The psychological cost of the French royal family’s machinations, which chewed up its children in the service of dynastic manoeuvres is acted out against the backdrop of the Palace of Versailles (where part of the film was shot).

The film is performed at the pace of high feudal society, which was very slow and measured compared to modern life.

Also, people were used to forming deeply felt friendships and expressing their feelings verbally in a manner that now appears slightly exotic.

Acting like a separate character in the film is the music, drawn from Wolfgang Mozart’s repertoire and some written in the style that Nannerl would have written (all her works have been lost).

Visually, emotionally, intellectually and above all, musically, this film absorbs the viewer. Apart from anything else it is interesting to see a film in which Wolfgang Mozart is an extra.

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