Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: For the Love of Music: The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart, by Elizabeth Rusch (2011, Tricycle Press)

Recommended for ages 8 to 12.

I started studying classical piano when I was six years old, and some of my fondest reading memories are checking out children’s biographies of great composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach from our local public library.  I was especially fascinated by Mozart, with his seemingly glamorous childhood travelling to all the courts of Europe.  My young self would have been delighted with Elizabeth Rusch’s new picture book biography about Mozart’s gifted older sister, Maria Anna Mozart, which is a perfect book to share with budding young musicians.

Like her more famous brother, Maria Anna (usually known by her nickname, Nannerl), showed an early gift for music.  Her father was a court musician, and the house was filled with music.  Her brother, Wolfgang, was born when she was five, and by the time she was ten, the two of them were giving concerts all over Europe.  She, too, was considered one of the great pianists of Europe, and the family toured for three years.  She was the first to write down her brother’s compositions, and his first duets were for the two of them to play together. But by the time of their next tour, Maria was left at home with her mother, although she continued performing in private concerts and even composed her own music (sadly, none of her own music survives).  Without saying so directly, the book makes it clear that Maria did not have the opportunities of her brother; she eventually married and moved to a tiny town far from Salzburg, taking her piano with her.  At the end of her life, she moved back to Salzburg, where she taught piano to many children.  The book concludes with a moving scene of Maria as an elderly lady, making music with her nephew, Wolfgang’s son.  

Author Elizabeth Rusch, together with illustrator/designers Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson, have constructed a design for this picture book biography that pays tribute to the elegant perfection we associate with Mozart’s piano music.  The illustrations are collages of remnants of 18th century style fabric, reproductions of Mozart’s letters and musical scores, along with oil and acrylic paintings on canvas.  The elaborate fabrics in the 18th century clothing worn by the figures in the paintings is echoed in the patchwork remnants which surround the printed text.  Moreover, the narrative is written in sonata-allegro form, the musical structure which underlies classical sonatas.  In other words, the narrative is divided into movements in lieu of short chapters:  first movement, development, recapitulation, coda, etc.  This sophistication will go completely over the heads of young children who are not immersed in classical music lessons, but is not entirely necessary to enjoy the story.  This book can therefore be enjoyed on several levels, one requiring some musical knowledge and sophistication, but also just on the level of a compelling story of an unsung musical genius of the 18th century.

The book includes an afterword with additional biographical information on Maria, as well as a brief bibliography.  

Tweens and other young readers interested in learning more about Mozart’s gifted sister should seek out Carolyn Meyer’s excellent novel, In Mozart’s Shadow:  His Sister’s Story (Harcourt, 2008).  


Kathryn said...

Thanks for posting on this! I am a pianist and teach lessons to some children that would like this very much.

kamagra said...

I love their subject and it's delightful to get caught up in their presentation.