Directed by Rene Feret
In cinemas now
Mozart’s Sister is a French film that tells the overlooked story of Maria Anna Walburga Ignatius Mozart, or Nannerl, as she is referred to by her family. The elder sister of Wolfgang, Maria Anna was a talented violinist, vocalist, pianist and harpsichord player who also composed music.
The film is set in 1763 when Maria Anna is 14. The family travels to Versailles in France where they are the guests of King Louis XV. As their horse carriage undergoes repairs some distance from the palace the family is forced to seek refuge in an abbey where the youngest daughters of King Louis XV live.
Maria Anna befriends Princess Louise, expressing her dissatisfaction about being carted across Europe in the freezing cold just so that her father can revel in the glory of his children. The Princess asks her to deliver a letter to a romantic interest once she arrives in Versailles.
Upon arrival, a servant gives her men’s clothes and tells her to pose as a man in order to deliver the letter. This brings her into contact with the son of the King, known as the Dauphin, who is impressed by her golden voice and other musical talents. They become friends and he commissions her to compose music that is received with acclaim and “could only have been written by a man”. After a few meetings Maria Anna confesses that she isn’t a man and the Dauphin continues to commission her work under her alias.
Maria Anna asks her father if she can be taught how to properly compose music but he refuses on the basis that it is not a profession that is open to women. He spends most of his time fostering the talent of Wolfgang.
Maria Anna decides to stay in Versailles after her father refuses to acknowledge that some of Wolfgang’s compositions were written partly by her. The film portrays her attempts to establish herself as a composer and her tragic decision to throw her work into the fire. Almost none of her compositions survive to this day.
Although women are more recognised in music today, only two women featured in the Rolling Stone poll “Best 100 Guitarists of All Time” and only four in the top 100 of “500 Best Albums of All Time”. Mozart’s Sister is a great film that vividly portrays the limitations women experienced because of their gender. It is worth a look.