Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Mozart Girl by Barbara Nickel, a lively story of Wolfgang Mozart's musically talented older sister, Nannerl

Please forgive my two-week absence!  I was away at the Historical Novel Society conference in National Harbor, Maryland, and then at the American Library Association conference exhibits in DC.  Then I returned to the library and quickly got overwhelmed with work.

But without further ado, on with some reviews of historical novels. This one is for a middle-grade story, but readers of any age can enjoy it.

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.

The Mozart Girl was published by Second Story in 2019; it was first published in 1996 as The Secret Wish of Nannerl Mozart. (I wrote this review for May's Historical Novels Review.)

Nannerl's story was also revealed in two historical novels for adults, both entitled Mozart's Sister - one by Nancy Moser (2000), and another by Rita Charbonnier (2005).


  1. Just wondering, but what happened at this Historical Novel Society (HNS) conference? If this is a blog about historical fiction, then surely what goes on with the HNS is of interest to your readers.

  2. You're correct, this is a blog about historical fiction.

    Thanks for your interest in the HNS conference. Because I run this site in my free time and have been overwhelmed with work, as mentioned above, I may or may not have time to provide a detailed writeup about the conference, of which the latest was the 8th such event in North America. Fortunately, others have been sharing their impressions online. Please check out Mary Tod's summary of the editor/agent panel at A Writer of History and the article Book Festival Brings Together Historical Fiction Enthusiasts from the Prince George's Sentinel newspaper.

    The official Historical Novel Society Facebook page and Facebook group are also excellent sources for all things going on with the HNS. The conferences are worth attending for any historical fiction enthusiast.