Nannerl’s Lament

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ou’ve probably come to ask about Wolfgang. Most people do. For many years, I was afraid he’d been forgotten, but now that Salieri is dying, people have become curious about his earliest rival.

My brother would laugh his braying laugh to be considered anyone’s rival. But during his lifetime, it was no laughing matter. Court intrigue blocked his every attempt to secure a permanent job to support his family. Everyone knows he died poor and thinks it was because he was a careless drunkard. He did love luxury, but he was no fool. One day when he had no money to buy firewood, he and Constanze danced crazily around the room with blue lips and chattering teeth, trying to keep warm. He took on the insane task of writing an opera and a requiem at the same time to earn a few badly-needed guineas.

It’s strange what opposite directions our lives have taken. Look around you at the comfortable room that my late husband the Baron has provided for me. Feel the warmth of the crackling fire. See the light gleam on the polished silver and the fine Dresden porcelain we inherited from his mother. I never want for food or care. Yet who would guess that once I played for the crowned heads of Europe, sitting at fine gilt harpsichords next to my little brother as we wove tapestries of brilliant sound? Who even remembers that Mozart had a sister?

When I was a little girl, Papa used to take me on his lap and teach me music at our little Klavier  in Salzburg. For my fourth birthday, he copied out a notebook of minuets I’d learned to play. “Bravo, Nannerl,” he would exclaim. “My musical one, you will go far.” He and his musician friends would exclaim in delight when I played, my legs dangling beneath my ruffled gown.

Then he was born. On a chilly January night, Mama moaned behind closed doors and brought forth a tiny baby, my brother Johann Chrysostomos Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart. The “Gottlieb” means “God’s love,” and was later changed to its Latin form, “Amadeus.” Wolferl seldom took it seriously though, and later poked fun at his ridiculously long name.

At first my brother was a bit like a puppy with his eyes closed all the time. All he did was puke and cry. I did not find him very interesting, and much preferred our real puppy, Bimperl. My parents seemed to like him well enough, though.

When Wolferl grew old enough to walk, he grew especially annoying. He would interrupt my music lessons and try to plink on the keys. Papa gently chased him away, but one day something strange caught his ear.

“Oho, what have we here? Listen, Nannerl.”

“What?” I pouted. I just wanted my brother to go away.

“He’s playing your minuet!”

And indeed he was. Not perfectly, but his tiny fingers were carefully pecking out the main theme in recognizable form. When he was done, Papa scooped him up, laughing in delight.

“Again, Liebling!” He sat down with Wolferl on his lap, pushing me aside, and the two of them spent the afternoon at the Klavier. From then on, Wolfgang received lessons as well.

Papa’s friends convinced him there was money to made with his Wunderkinder, his wonder children. Papa began to have visions of gold dancing in his head. When Wolferl was six and I was ten, we launched our first tour of Europe. Mama came along that time, and we had a wonderful time seeing the sights as we rode through Linz and down the Danube River to Vienna.

We went to Holland, to London, to Paris, falling sleep to the familiar rumble of carriage wheels. We stayed in dark sinister inns, sharing a flea-ridden mattress and shivering in the cold. Mama tried to make jokes and keep our spirits up, but it wasn’t easy. Papa counted our coins and scribbled in his ledgers. Our money was running out fast.

In Paris we weren’t paid at all, but were allowed the privilege of standing behind Louis XIV and Madame Pompadour at dinner. Despite their dazzling gowns and high elaborate wigs, the people at court smelled horrible. Parisians considered bathing unhealthy in those days, so people wore layers of cologne. We Salzburgers, who bathed every week, had to struggle not to hold our noses in the famous halls of Versailles.

So passed our childhood. Sometimes it was exciting, other times it was exhausting and dull. We would come home to Salzburg and delight in the fresh mountain air and romp with Bimperl. It felt so good to sleep in our own beds! Then Papa would pack us up again.

By the time I was twelve, Papa began to leave me behind. Though I had mixed feelings about touring, I hated being left behind without Wolfgang. I had hoped to learn how to compose as he did, but my early efforts were ignored. All Wolferl had to do was spill a concerto onto the page and everyone hailed him as a genius. Later, of course, we knew he was. But I was never given a chance to prove myself.

I have advice for you young people. Don’t be afraid to go out into the world. Let yourself be heard, whatever your passion is. Don’t pass away unknown as I will. Perhaps someday people will learn that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a sister, and her name was Marianne, whom her family nicknamed “Nannerl.” Remember me.

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