Jul 302021

Today is the birthday (1751) of Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart, called “Marianne” and nicknamed Nannerl, the older sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) and daughter of Leopold (1719–1787) and Anna Maria Mozart (1720–1778). She and Wolfgang were the only 2 of 7 children of their parents who survived infancy.

Marianne Mozart was born in Salzburg. When she was seven years old, her father Leopold Mozart started teaching her to play the harpsichord. Leopold took her and Wolfgang on tours of many cities, such as Vienna and Paris, to showcase their talents. In the early days, she sometimes received top billing, and she was noted as an excellent harpsichord player and fortepianist. However, owing to the gender biases of the time it became impossible as she grew older, and reached what was considered marriageable age (i.e. menarche) for her to continue her public career any further.

There is evidence that Marianne wrote musical compositions, as there are letters from Wolfgang praising her work, but the voluminous correspondence of her father never mentions any of her compositions, and none have survived. In contrast to her brother, who quarreled with their father and eventually disobeyed his wishes with respect to career path and choice of spouse, Marianne remained entirely subordinate to her father. She fell in love with Franz d’Ippold, who was a captain and private tutor, but was forced by her father to turn down his marriage proposal. Wolfgang attempted, in vain, to get Marianne to stand up for her own preference. Eventually, Marianne married a magistrate, Johann Baptist Franz von Berchtold zu Sonnenburg (23 August 1783), and settled with him in St. Gilgen, a village in Austria about 29 km east of Salzburg (and where her mother had been born). Berchtold was twice a widower and had five children from his two previous marriages, whom Marianne helped raise. She also bore three children of her own: Leopold Alois Pantaleon (1785–1840), Jeanette (1789–1805) and Maria Babette (1790–1791).

An unusual episode in Marianne’s life occurred when she gave birth (27 July 1785) to her first child, a son who was named Leopold after her father. Marianne had traveled from her home in St. Gilgen to Salzburg for the birth. When she returned to St. Gilgen, she left the infant in the care of her father and his servants. The elder Leopold stated (by a letter that preceded Marianne back to St. Gilgen) that he would prefer to raise the child for the first few months himself. In 1786, he extended the arrangement to an indefinite term. Leopold continued to care for his grandson, taking delight in his progress (toilet training, speech, and so on), and commencing with the very beginnings of musical training. Marianne saw her son on occasional visits, but in general was not involved in his care. The arrangement continued until the death of her father, on 28 May 1787.

Biographers differ on the reasons for this arrangement. Little Leopold was ill in his infancy, and perhaps needed to be kept in Salzburg for this reason, but this does not explain why he was still kept there after his recovery. Another possibility attributes the arrangement to Marianne’s delicate health or her need to take care of her stepchildren. Biographer Maynard Solomon attributes the arrangement to Leopold’s wish to revive his skills in training a musical genius, as he had done with Wolfgang.

When Wolfgang was a toddler, Nannerl (four and a half years older) was his idol. At age three, Mozart was inspired to study music by observing his father’s instruction of Marianne, and he wanted to be like her. The two children were very close, and they invented a secret language and an imaginary “Kingdom of Back” of which they were king and queen. Wolfgang’s early correspondence with Marianne is affectionate, and includes some of the scatological and sexual word play in which Wolfgang is known to have routinely indulged in with intimates. Occasionally Wolfgang wrote entries in Marianne’s diary, referring to himself in the third person. Wolfgang wrote a number of works for Marianne to perform, including the Prelude and Fugue in C, K. 394 (1782) and the four Preludes K. 395/300g (1777). Until 1785, he sent her copies of his piano concertos (up to No. 21) in St. Gilgen.

Authorities differ concerning the precise relationship between Wolfgang and Marianne in adulthood. It seems likely that they drifted apart but it is not clear why nor the extent of the distance between them. After Wolfgang’s visit to Salzburg in 1783 (with his new wife Constanze), Wolfgang and Marianne never visited each other again, they never saw each other’s children, and their correspondence diminished to a trickle, ceasing entirely in 1788. Wolfgang died on 5 December 1791. Sometime around 1800, Marianne encountered Franz Xaver Niemetschek’s 1798 biography of Wolfgang. Since this biography had been written from the perspective of Vienna and of Constanze, much of its content was new to Marianne. In an 1800 letter, she wrote:

Herr Prof. Niemetschek’s biography so completely reanimated my sisterly feelings toward my so ardently beloved brother that I was often dissolved in tears, since it is only now that I became acquainted with the sad condition in which my brother found himself.

When Marianne’s husband died in 1801 she returned to Salzburg, accompanied by her two living children and four stepchildren, and worked as a music teacher. In her old age, Marianne had her first encounter in person with Wolfgang’s widow Constanze since the visit of 1783. In 1820, Constanze and her second husband Georg Nikolaus von Nissen moved to Salzburg. Although Marianne had not even known that Constanze was still alive, the encounter was apparently “cordial”, though not warm. Eventually, Marianne did the Nissens a great favor: to help them write a biography of Wolfgang, Marianne lent the Nissens her collection of family letters, including Wolfgang and Leopold’s correspondence up to 1781.

In 1821, Marianne had a visit from Wolfgang’s son, Franz Xaver Mozart, whom she had never met during her brother’s lifetime. The son had come from his home in Lemberg to conduct a performance of his father’s Requiem in remembrance of the recently deceased Nissen. In her last years, Marianne’s health declined, and she became blind in 1825. Mary Novello, visiting in 1829, recorded her impression that she was “blind, languid, exhausted, feeble and nearly speechless” as well as lonely. She mistakenly took Marianne to be impoverished, though in fact she was frugal and left a large fortune.

Marianne died on 29 October 1829, at 78 years, and was buried in St Peter’s Cemetery, Salzburg.

I have already given regional recipes for others in the Mozart family, so here I thought I would be slightly sideways in my reasoning by including a recipe for St Giles gingerbread – St Giles being the English name for the town where Marianne lived most of her life, and where her mother was born. I am a big fan of gingerbread, and this recipe is suitably rich and spicy.  The quantities of the various spices are suggestions only.  Alter as you see fit.

St Giles Gingerbread


3 eggs, beaten
1 cup honey
½ cup chopped suet or lard
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp ground ginger (or more to taste)
1 tbsp fruit-based hot sauce
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 apple, peeled and grated
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
½ cup fresh grated ginger


Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F

Grease and flour a bundt or ring pan, or regular cake tin.

Mix the eggs and honey together in a small bowl.

Place the remaining ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, and stir well to mix all the ingredients thoroughly. Add the eggs and honey mixture, and combine to form a thick batter.

Pour the batter in the prepared pan and bake for about one hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Turn out on to a cake rack and serve warm or cool with whipped cream or butter cream.

(Note: You can also make the batter into a steamed pudding if you wish. Place the batter in a greased and lined pudding basin or mold, cover tightly, and steam for about 3 hours).

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