The Mozart Girl

Written by Barbara Nickel
Review by Sarah Johnson

Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart enjoys beautiful gowns, birthday gifts, and sweets as much as any 12-year-old girl, but she has an extraordinary talent and big dreams. She yearns to perform music before royalty and to become a world-famous composer. The first goal may be achievable, but the second sadly isn’t, because she lives in Salzburg in 1763, and only boys like her younger brother, Wolfi, can hope for a musical career. Although “Nannerl” loves her playful sibling, she’s jealous of the attention he receives and dislikes doing household chores while he practices music. As the Mozart parents and their two Wunderkindern head out on a Grand Tour, from Munich’s Nymphenburg Palace to Versailles, Nannerl writes in her journal, performs for high-ranking audiences, and secretly composes her own symphony.

This lively middle-grade novel will make young female readers glad they live in today’s world rather than in the 18th-century Habsburg Monarchy. There’s no escaping the unfairness of Nannerl’s situation (in fact, I found myself wishing this theme was handled less heavy-handedly). Readers will also sense Nannerl’s elation when the Elector of Bavaria acknowledges her talents and requests a special concert just to hear her play (this is based on fact). Through a subplot involving the Elector’s musically accomplished sister, Sopherl, the novel highlights the importance of female solidarity. Nickel also shows how Nannerl’s envy of her brother is solely because of societal strictures. Wolfi is depicted as an incredibly gifted, mischievous boy who looks up to her. The cultural atmosphere is well-evoked, from German holiday specialties to costumes to travel; with sedan chairs as the proper mode of transport at Versailles, Papa Mozart worries how he’ll afford it. A swift-moving novel that will inspire readers to seek out information on the real-life Nannerl. (First published in 1996 as The Secret Wish of Nannerl Mozart.)