Stitches in Air

Written by Liane Ellison Norman
Review by Juliet Waldron

This beautifully imagined (if slow to unfold) tale concerns the life of Anna Maria Pertl, wife of the minor Austrian composer Leopold Mozart, and mother of the legendary Wolfgang Amadeus. Ms. Norman’s story is heavily fictionalized, for not enough is known of the life of Mozart’s mother to make a biography. Anna Maria lived, as the author notes, in the eighteenth century, when the “rights of man” were trumpeted, but women of all classes were simply regarded as breeding stock. They were, according to both priests and philosophers, made expressly to cook, clean, sew, and serve their masters.

The real Anna may be lost to history, but not to this ingenious novelist. Ms Norman makes the most of the mystery, fashioning a living, breathing woman and her brace of brilliant children. Having written about Wolfgang Mozart’s marriage, I feel that Ms. Norman has caught the essence of his parents. I know how brutal the eighteenth century was, both in estimation and treatment of “the sex.” It is entirely possible, as the author suggests, that it was Anna, not Leopold, who contributed the raw talent with which her son Wolfgang was so famously blessed. Norman’s Anna is a thwarted composer—an inspired musician trapped in a woman’s body, motherhood her only permissible destiny. In the course of Stitches In Air, we guess that the same doom might await Nannerl, Mozart’s gifted sister. Fantasy, in this case, might very well be the tragic truth of this archetypal musical family.