Mozart’s Sister Reader’s Group Guide

The name Mozart is synonymous with musical genius, calling up the powerful notes of The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, and The Marriage of Figaro, reminding us that what is now classical was once revolutionary. But most of us don’t know that standing in Wolfgang’s shadow was another talented musician who played and composed at his side for many years before the two parted ways — his own sister Maria Anna, nicknamed Nannerl.

Mozart's SisterIn Mozart’s Sister by Rita Charbonnier we experience life as the other Mozart child, an equally passionate musician who, though eclipsed by the sun of her brother’s greatness, eventually found her way back to the music they both loved. This reader’s guide is intended as a starting point for your discussion of her story, Mozart’s Sister.

  1. In any early letter to the Major Franz Armand d’Ippold, Nannerl claims to have given up on her higher musical ambitions, saying that she is “truly happy” with what she has and asks “nothing more, truly nothing” of music. Is this true? As she is courted by Armand, has she in fact given up on music? And if so, is it a decision she is truly at peace with?
  2. Reacting angrily when Armand asks about why she doesn’t play anymore, Nannerl relents and tells him her whole story. Why? What do Nannerl and Armand have in common? Why is each attracted to the other?
  3. How does her brother’s birth change Nannerl’s life? Immediately? In the long term? Specifically, how does it change her relationship with her father? Do you think she would have been happier had Wolfgang never been born? How are the two Mozart children alike? How are they different?
  4. Sibling rivalry and parental favoritism play a huge role in shaping Nannerl’s life. Do you have siblings? What is your relationship with them like? Did you ever feel favored and perhaps unfavored by your parents?
  5. On page 18, Wolfgang tells Nannerl that she won’t be a successful musician because she will have a “bunch of children.” Why does he say this? How does Nannerl react to his taunts? Is he right?
  6. What kind of man is Leopold Mozart? Is he a good father or a bad one? Is Anna Maria a good mother? To both of her children?
  7. On page 28 Leopold takes the violin away from Nannerl. Why? Is it his own prejudice against girls or simply a sign of the times? Why might the violin have been considered an inappropriate instrument for a girl?
  8. Does Nannerl ever really fight for her dreams? Why or why not?
  9. What is Mozart’s attitude toward his work? Toward Nannerl’s work as a composer? Do you think he was supportive of her talent?
  10. After her father tells her he is taking Wolfgang to Italy but leaving her behind to earn a living for them as a piano teacher, Nannerl burns her musical compositions. If you sympathized with Salieri when you watched Amadeus, wait until you find out what happened to Nannerl. As brilliantly talented as her younger brother, she had a famous musical career that was ruthlessly turned into a mere addendum to his. Mozart’s Sister brings an intriguing woman back to life.
    –India Edghill
    Why? What does this action represent to her? This is the beginning of a dark period in her life. What happens to her and why?
  11. How are Nannerl and Victoria alike? How are they different? Why is Nannerl interested in teaching Victoria? What does she see in Victoria’s experience?
  12. Victoria steals a composition of Nannerl’s — the only one that Nannerl hasn’t burned — from Tresel. On page 145, when Nannerl discovers Victoria playing the piece she reacts badly. Why? Why wouldn’t she want her music played?
  13. Why does Armand forbid Victoria to take piano lessons? Are his reasons in her best interest or are they selfish? What eventually makes him change his mind? Do his feelings for Nannerl play a role in this decision?
  14. How does life change for Nannerl when Wolfgang and Leopold return from Italy? Why are she and her brother never able to recapture the magic of their youth? Who would you say is responsible for their drifting apart? Nannerl? Wolfgang? Leopold?
  15. On page 207 Tresel tells Nannerl that Nannerl only loves Armand because he is unhappy. Do you think this is true? Why would an unhappy man be attractive to Nannerl? Why is Armand attracted to her?
  16. On page 211 Leopold tells Nannerl that she, not Mozart, must be the one to write his requiem mass. Why would he choose her?
  17. Why does Nannerl start writing music again? To please herself or to please Armand? Discuss the events that take place at the costume ball. What does Nannerl discover about herself, her fiancé, and her student? How do these revelations affect her?
  18. Why would Mozart seduce Victoria? Do you think sibling rivalry or spitefulness played a role?
  19. In the end, Nannerl and Armand don’t get married. Why? What do you think of Armand’s reasons for breaking off the engagement?
  20. What did Nannerl think of Baptist when she was introduced to him by the Countess and her mother? How does her opinion of him change when she meets him again nine years later in Sankt Gilgen? Who do you think has changed? Him or her? What draws the two together?
  21. What does Ebony, the horse, symbolize to Nannerl? When the horse is injured and needs to be put down, why does she want to be the one to do it?
  22. When Baptist goes to Herr Mozart to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage, Leopold wants to give her the harpsichord. Why does Baptist refuse it? Do you think Leopold has regrets about his treatment of his daughter?
  23. What is Nannerl’s biggest regret?
  24. Discuss Nannerl’s meeting with Antonio Salieri.
  25. Why does Mozart’s death inspire Nannerl to buy her children musical instruments?