The Other Mozart: Wolfgang Mozart Had a Sister Who Played, Composed and Was Forgotten

There was another Mozart. Older sister to Wolfgang, Nannerl was said to be just as accomplished as a musician and composer.

Actress, producer and playwright Sylvia Milo discovered her existence nine years ago while visiting Vienna, and in the Mozart House saw a portrait of the two of them “playing a four-handed piece with their hands intertwined. It really surprised me because there was a woman who looked like an equal to Wolfgang.”

She began researching Nannerl Mozart's life, discovered her talents and decided to write her one-woman, 75-minute show, The Other Mozart, making its Houston premiere courtesy of the newly minted Lott Entertainment.

“It seems like she was extremely kind and very supportive towards her brother. She could have been jealous. He stole the attention, he was her younger brother and he stole the attention by being a boy, being the one who could get a position somewhere, and he did overshadow her. The parents decided to promote his career because that made sense for the family,” says Milo, herself a classically trained violist and pianist. The Mozart family was not a rich one; they placed their hopes in what Wolfgang could do, made more difficult by the fact that he freelanced rather than attach himself to any one patron, she says.

In Milo's story, Nannerl is a ghost who appears onstage who then runs through the major events of her life. “She starts from the beginning. The first music lesson. The first tours the two children went on. The press Nannerl got praising her above Wolfgang at first.”

And, Milo says, the moment when Nannerl grows up and has to focus on getting married. At a certain point in the culture of the time, women did not go out onstage or on tours, Milo says. The hope was that Wolfgang could support her, Milo says, but he wasn't successful enough to do so until after she married at the advanced age of 33 a man her father's age who already had five children.

Onstage Milo appears in a dress that's 18 feet across and a hairstyle of the time fashioned after the portraits of Nannerl. “The hair is magnificent. It takes about two and a half hours to curl and tease it; it's all my hair,” Milo says.

Sadly, none of Nannerl's musical compositions were saved, so the music for The Other Mozart is taken from some of Wolfgang Mozart's work as well as that of Marianna Martines (a female composer who inspired Nannerl), with new music by Nathan Davis (a Rice University graduate) and Phyllis Chen, composers with the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center. This production has been performed in this and other countries and was nominated for the 2015 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Sound Design in a Play.

January 7-9 at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. MATCH, 3400 Main. For information, call 713-521-4533 or visit $45.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing