One day, several years ago, I bought one of those cheap Mozart collections off a market stall. When I got home I played the CD to listen to it: one of the tracks was the Fantasia in D minor for piano, KV 397.
Using the player below, you can listen to the first minute of it; alternatively, you may watch the video above, where the artist and musician Paul Barton plays the whole piece. (Thanks for the dedication, Paul!)
As soon as I heard the opening notes, that very first time, I was stunned. I stopped what I was doing to listen properly, then I listened to the piece again, and then again, and then rushed out to a music store to buy myself the score. I kept thinking, who wrote this stuff, how I would love to meet them! What an incredible brain! What strength of character! How wonderfully mad!
It’s astonishing how many different ideas and colours are contained in that single page of music. Those hugely long rests, which resolve into something completely unexpected; and the disturbing finale. It doesn’t finish; it’s a thought which starts off as something dramatic and finishes in a cheeky, laughing smile.
Nannerl, the protagonist in my novel Mozart’s Sister, plays the Fantasia at a special moment. In her hands the piece of music becomes a turning point in her life: the reconciliation with the memory of her father and brother. When she plays it, she understands some of the things Wolfgang had told her many years before which she had refused to listen to at the time.
When I wrote that page I locked myself in the house and unplugged all the phones and Internet (which is something I do quite often to be honest). I put the CD on to repeat play and sat down on the sofa, which is next to the piano, with my laptop on the piano stool and the Fantasia score propped on a chair next to it. As I listened to the music, and glanced at the score from time to time, I just let myself go, writing down any and all of the images that came to mind, and then I stopped the CD a moment and played a few lines of the music myself, and then I went back to making notes of whatever I wanted to make notes about, and the tears were streaming down my face the whole time…
The structure itself of my novel is inspired by this piece of music, which has a mournful beginning, moments of tension and drama, full and sudden ‘flights’ and a surprisingly playful finale.
Another of Mozart’s compositions that has a strong bearing on my novel is the Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat major KV 271, Jeunehomme; it’s a climax that leads my central character to feel the oppressive weight of her abandonment of music.
Here you can listen to an extract from the third movement, Rondeau.
The term “Jeunehomme” in French means “young man” but it actually refers to a woman, because that was the name of the famous French pianist who arrived in Salzburg in 1777, fresh “from the big world outside, to make the city reel with the scent of high society” — according to one of Mozart’s eminent biographers, Bernhard Paumgartner. Mozart was born in 1756. He therefore wrote this magnificent Concerto when he was little more than twenty years of age, inspired by a foreign Muse.
Information regarding Jeunehomme stops here unfortunately: we know little else about her. In other works we find other references but most of it is hypothesis and little is known for certain. Who was this mysterious young woman? Was there some kind of romantic attachment between her and Mozart? Was she blind? And was she really called Jeunehomme or Jenamy as some academics have claimed? We almost wonder whether she really existed at all?
In Mozart’s Sister there are references to other splendid compositions by Mozart: The Magic Flute KV 620 (Act two, Scene 28, “Wir wandelten durch Feuergluten”), Don Giovanni KV 527 (Act two, Finale, “Don Giovanni, a cenar teco m’invitasti”)… check out the player below!
The third piece in the playlist, Divertimento KV 251 “Nannerl Septett”, is not mentioned in my book, actually. But I thought it was nice to include it here since Mozart wrote it as a present for his sister on her name day. That was in 1776. Wolfgang was twenty years old, Nannerl twenty-five.
To conclude, if you wish, you can download on your device all the Mozart pieces mentioned in this page, in m4a format, together with some notes. Just click on the button. Happy listening!
Header image by Monica Liu (Creative Commons License CC BY 2.0).