The story of Maria Anna Mozart, older sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, illustrates how social expectations have limited success for women and girls. She was a musical prodigy, perhaps a better musician than her younger brother, but her career was cut short because at the time, it was not considered acceptable for an adult woman to be a professional musician.
Maria Anna Mozart, like her more famous brother Wolfgang, was born in Salzburg, eldest of seven children; only Wolfgang and Anna survived infancy. She was born on July 30, 1751, and her brother (with two children who did not survive born in between) on January 27, 1756. Maria Anna was known within the family as Nannerl.
Her father, Leopold Mozart, was a professional musician. He composed, conducted, and taught, as well as played violin. Her mother, Anna Maria Walburga Mozart, cared for her husband and children lovingly, and she often accompanied them on their musical tours. The difficult birth of Wolfgang left Anna Maria unable to have more children.
When Maria Anna was seven, her father began teaching her to play the harpsichord. She took to it readily, as did her two-year-old brother. Their father realized quickly the depth of their talent and continued teaching them over the next three years.
In 1762, Leopold Mozart took his family on a concert tour throughout western and central Europe. They played private concerts for nobility and public concerts for general audiences. Whether these tours were financially successful, or cost nearly as much as they brought in, is disputed by different historians and biographers. The children often received presents when they played for noble families, but letters from Leopold imply that they were sometimes uncertain about money.
When performing in these early concerts, Maria Anna often received higher billing than her brother. Sometimes, she stayed home with her mother when her brother toured with his father and stayed home with her father when her brother went on a job-hunting trip with his mother accompanying him. Anna Maria died in 1778 while in Paris with Wolfgang.
We also know from Leopold’s letters that Maria Anna composed music, but none of those compositions have survived.
When Maria Anna reached the age of 18, an age at which she was expected to marry, she stopped touring. Her mother had died the year before, and it’s possible her father wanted her to manage the household in Salzburg. According to at least some biographers, he was very controlling, and Wolfgang eventually left home in 1781, leaving Maria Anna home with her father and the servants.
Maria Anna apparently fell in love with one suitor, Franz Armand d’Ippold, a captain and tutor, yet did not marry him. We have no certain record why they did not marry.
In August 1784, at the age of 33, Maria Anna finally did marry. Her husband, Johann Baptist Franz von Berchtold zu Sonnenberg, a magistrate who lived in a village about six hours from Salzburg. She moved to the village, St. Gilgen, where she cared for his five children from his previous marriages. The couple had three children: Leopold, Jeanette, and Maria who only lived about a year.
Her eldest child was born at the home of Leopold Mozart, his grandfather, and Maria Anna left her son with the elder Leopold for several years. We don’t have a record of why she chose to do that, though it is possible that Leopold was hoping to raise another musical prodigy.
Leopold Mozart died in May of 1787, and the young Leopold Berchtold returned to his mother’s care.
The Relationship Between “Nannerl” and Wolfgang
Perhaps because of the time they spent playing and touring, Maria Anna and Wolfgang were very close in childhood. They drifted apart in adulthood—as with many other details of their lives, biographers disagree on the particulars. But apparently, after they saw each other in 1783, soon after Wolfgang Mozart married his wife, Constanze, they did not visit again. After 1788, even letters between them stop.
Wolfgang Mozart died in 1791. Some years later, Maria Anna found a biography of her brother, and in one letter she wrote of her sadness in discovering what his later years had been like.
When Berchtold died in 1801, Marianne, her two children, and four stepchildren, moved to Salzburg, and she made a living teaching music. She met Constanze again only in 1820, and though the relationship was not particularly close, she loaned family letters to Constanze for use in writing a biography of Wolfgang. She met her brother’s son in 1821 for the first time.
By 1825, Maria Anna was blind. She managed her money carefully, appearing to some to be impoverished, but left an estate that was large for the time when she died on October 29, 1829.
Maria Anna Mozart Fast Facts
Born: July 30, 1751
Died: October 29, 1829
Also known as: Marianne Mozart, Nannerl
Lived in: Salzburg, Austria
Children: Maria Babette, Leopold Alois Pantaleon, Jeanette Babette
Known for: Musician