Fact vs. Fiction in “Mozart’s Sister”

The first question that an author of historical fiction is asked, inevitably, is: how much is true in your story? On this page are a collection of questions I have been most frequently asked, followed by my responses.

historical fiction

How much of your novel Mozart’s Sister is based on fact, and how much is fiction?

The main characters are all based on real people, with the exception of one female character who is fictional. Otherwise I have changed some dates and made up a lot of events but essentially have kept to documented facts. The inventive part above all concerns the characters’ psychology; the ways in which they react and their reasons for reacting like that.

For example, in the novel I have created a relationship between Wolfgang and his father, Leopold Mozart, that becomes closer and closer as the years go by. When Wolfgang leaves Salzburg and goes to live in Vienna, he does so with the full approval of his father, who even organises the journey and the move. In reality, Mozart remained in Vienna against his father’s wishes; and he probably could not wait to be permanently away from him. However, I needed to create a dynamic between them that was coherent with the emotional web of my story and create a sort of male alliance against the protagonist, who at this point is completely crushed.

The book comes alive through a romantic exchange of letters between Nannerl Mozart and a court officer, Armand d’Ippold. Are the letters authentic?

The correspondence is all made up, both between Nannerl and Armand, and between Wolfgang and Nannerl. But Nannerl really did love d’Ippold, and he loved her. Even her relationship with her brother is based on real life: theirs was a relationship forged of support, reciprocal affection and frequent teasing, above all on his part.

Is it true that Mozart’s sister was a child prodigy and composed music?

Of course: during their childhood, Wolfgang and Nannerl performed as a duo and her name was top of the bill. What’s more there are letters written by Mozart when he was young in which he compliments her on the beauty of her music and affectionately eggs her on to compose more. Unfortunately however, no compositions signed by Nannerl have come down to us.

In the novel Wolfgang and Nannerl, when they are children, play at being king and queen of an imaginary country: the Kingdom of Back. Is this an invention or a historical reference?

Their fairyland really did exist or at least it existed in little Wolfgang’s fantasy. The original name in German is Rücken, which literally means “the human back”. No one knows why he called it this. Nannerl later actually refers to it in writing and says that she could no longer remember the origin of the name.

Was Mozart really a jovial, rather dissolute, womaniser, as he appears in the novel?

The Maestro had affairs with married women and was certainly fun-loving to judge from some famous letters in which he goes on about excrement. But he also had a first-rate intellect, was conscious of his own worth and was gifted with a personal dignity, clearness of thought and coherence that one can only aspire to.

Is it true that Antonio Salieri taught Beethoven?

Yes and not only him: he also taught Franz Schubert, Franz Liszt and other famous musicians (not necessarily called Franz).

Why didn’t you write in your novel that it was Nannerl who composed some of Mozart’s famous pieces? It would have been a nice revenge.

But also a rather unsustainable hypothesis. Not to say absurd. And anyhow, when one intends to nurture a character with love, it isn’t necessary to view the alleged antagonist with hatred. Why must one reason simplistically, in terms of duality? The idea of attacking the Maestro to glorify his uncelebrated sister, quite frankly, has never occurred to me.