This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.
Set in 1763, this is a middle grade (not middle-grave as I initially typed! That's a whole different genre! LOL!) novel that I originally thought was based on a diary, but no such diary exists. In fact we have almost nothing of Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart (who was a contemporary of Jane Austen), that doesn't come to us via a third party. There is a notebook that was created by her father, and which contains compositions that she played, but the only reason that survives, I suspect, is that it also contains compositions that her kid brother, the renowned Wolfgang Amadè Mozart, added to the book of his own accord.
I was disappointed to discover that the diary entries are spurious. That removed this novel further into fiction, and that became a problem for me because other than the general outline of the story - a tour which actually did take place - this book is pretty much all fiction, and for me it was way over-done. I had thought the over-wrought tone of the novel was taking its complexion from the diary, but that's obviously not the case if there is no diary.
Additionally, some of the history is a bit off and the modern language seems inappropriate. Naturally you don't want a novel of this nature to sound archaic, but a little less modern slang would have improved the tone. It's also historically inaccurate. At one point, the author is talking about wax candles when in that era, tallow was the norm, and she mentions gelatin, when aspic was the norm back then.
She frequently refers to financial woes when in fact, the Mozarts did very well for themselves in this tour, at least until both children became ill and things slowed down quite a bit, but no such illness is mentioned for "Nannerl" (Marianne), only for "Wolferl" (Mozart). I have to say that though it is historically accurate, these endless '-erl' nicknames made me want to hurl. I shall refer to the sister as Marianne which was what she went by when pet names were not used.
The worst faux pas was getting the main character's birthday wrong! Marianne turned 12 on 30 July 1763 when the family was in the middle of a three year tour of Europe, but in this novel, she turns twelve before the tour begins, and the author has her birthday in June!
At each stop during the tour, the author has her taking second place to Wolfgang whereas in reality, she was, at least initially, the star performer, but clearly this changed as Mozart the younger began to flourish, and maybe that's what the author is trying to reflect here. I don't know. I was quite confused by this point!
Another faux pas the author makes is the discussion of money. She makes the father sounds like some sort of avaricious beggar. As I said, they did well for themselves on this tour earning substantial amounts, but the author always has them sounding impoverished. That's not as bad as this one section when they visited an important family - that of Baron Kerpen and his musically talented children - and the Mozart father says at one point: “How wonderful to have such a fine orchestra, all in one family...Do you ever play in public, for money?”
That would have been an unconscionable impertinence back then. It really stood-out like a sore thumb to me, and continued a process of turning me off this story even more than I already had been. If the novel had not been so short, and I was not already over halfway through it by then, I would have DNF'd right there. As it was I made it only to eighty percent before I could not stand to read any more when the author was making a fuss about Christmas, which back in Mozart's time, was not the big event it is today. Yes, it was celebrated, but the bigger event was Saint Nicholas's Day which was early in December.
I understand this is fiction, and little is known about Marianne, particularly how she thought and felt, and that some dramatic license is permissible in a novel like this, but the portrayal of her in this story felt wrong, inauthentic, and frankly, disrespectful of such a talented young woman. It may well have been that she had the same musical yearnings as her brother, and even the same skills, but we will never know because nothing of hers survives to compare with Mozart's own work.
What does seem likely is that her facility with music was what inspired such a passion for it in her kid brother. He watched as her father taught her to play. She was an accomplished musician, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was all she ever had on her mind as is implied here.
Rightly or wrongly - obviously wrongly by our modern expectations - there were different pressures and constraints on girls back then, and certain behaviors that now are considered restrictive and even abusive, were the norm and accepted as the way things are. Precious few people saw life differently. To present her in a modern light as though she had beliefs and lofty, but frustrated ambitions that she may well not have had is an imposition and is dangerous ground for writers to traverse with such abandon.
Perhaps Marianne was exactly as she was as depicted here, but we don't know, and it seems to me to be more likely that she simply enjoyed playing, and had no other ambition. It may well be that she chose to set aside music later in life in favor of other priorities, and had no grand plans, frustrated or otherwise, that she longed to pursue.
It may have been just the opposite. The fact is that we do not know. What we do know is that women had certain expectations both for themselves, and also that were set upon them by others, particularly their parents and husbands, and we do not know exactly where her own views lay, so to present her as this thwarted, frustrated genius felt like a grave imposition to me and one which is not supported by history.
It's true that there is much debate about her talent, not so much about her playing ability, which is a given, but about her compositional skills, but as I mentioned, of those we have nothing by which to judge. She composed music, that we do know, but none of it has survived. The only real 'evidence' we have of its quality is the complimentary comments of both her father and her brother, and while I'm sure these were genuine, we do not know if father was praising a talented daughter and brother was praising a fellow prodigy, or if both were simply bolstering a beloved daughter/sibling with great praise where average praise may have been more objectively appropriate. It’s a great shame that we do not know, but the fact remains that we do not.
Where this book did well was in highlighting her playing ability, but everything else is pure speculation and I felt it serves a woman like Marianne badly to puff her up for talent (in composition) that we know nothing of, while underserving the talent she had that we can certainly attest to, based on historical records. I cannot commend this as a worthy read therefore.