Book review: Mozart's Sister

Sometimes I have the tendency to feel sorry for myself. When the kids interrupt me or the housework piles up or someone blocks my chosen path, I sit back and have a little whinge. "See, I can't do it. It's so hard. Waah."

So I knew that I was expecting to feel a lot of sympathy for Nannerl, the main character in Rita Charbonnier's book, Mozart's Sister, when I read it away on holidays this week. 

About five years older than her brother Wolfgang, Maria Anna Mozart (Nannerl to her family) was also a musical prodigy. She sang beautifully and played the harpsichord to royalty all around Europe on the tours her father organised to show off his two little genius children. 

The reason most people have only heard about Wolfgang Mozart, however, is that her father would not teach Nannerl, he wouldn't let her compose and he certainly wouldn't let her play the violin. "That's not an instrument for a woman," he said when she tried to play. 

If Charbonnier's book is to be believed, Nannerl composed in secret at night and her brother, whom she was very close to as a child, tried to teach her what he learned about composition, counterpoint and harmony. However, when her father refused to allow her to continue on with her passion, she ended up falling into depression and in a fit of anger, burned every piece she had ever written.

At this point I had great empathy for Nannerl. She seemed to be blocked at every turn. Her situation seemed to be impossible, and her father a small minded dictator, unable to see that a woman could be just as wonderful and proficient a musician as a man.

Mozart senior took Wolfgang on another tour when he was a teenager, leaving Nannerl behind to give piano lessons to earn money to support himself and his son. Brother and sister were apart for a long period and their relationship suffered.

When young Mozart came back and found his sister depressed, hopeless and without the passion she had once shared with her brother, he was hard on her.

"You haven't created anything!" he said accusingly. "What have you done?"

At this point I gasped. How cruel! I thought. What could she possibly do? But the more I thought about it, the more I realised he was actually right. His sister had given up. She had seen the blockages around her as bigger than herself and she had capitulated in defeat. She had become a victim of her circumstances.

My question to myself from this book was: in every area of life, whether tiny or important, am I going to let myself be defeated by the blockages in my path? Will I become a victim of circumstances or will I keep trying, keep finding ways through? This year, I say 'no' to self pity and the 'it's not fair' that comes so easily out of my mouth.