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Mozart's Sister


My brother was dead and I couldn't find his body.

I walked among the bleak mounds of the cemetery, pulling my cape close with one hand while clasping the hood tightly around my head with the other. It was too cold to be beyond the city gates of Vienna in this awful place, yet it was fitting that I was here under such conditions. To search a graveyard on a sunny day seemed wrong. Perhaps if I'd known where he lay and was bringing him a fresh spray of flowers, the sun would have been an appropriate prop. But not knowing his exact resting place, and fearing that I'd never know ... cold air and skies that threatened rain were essential ingredients to my inner gloom. Mirroring my regret. Sustaining my sorrow. Sostenuto. Espressivo. An elegy for the dead.

I smiled at the terminology. My memory of the musical terms would have made our father proud. How many times had he drilled my brother and me about such things?

I walked on. There were no trees here. No tombstones. St. Marx wasn't a normal cemetery, where statues of angels and cherubs made the dead less dead. It was devoid of beauty. Yet I did not turn back but kept walking, hoping to discover some detail about my brother's final fate.

It was incomprehensible that the two most important men in my life were dead. Father and brother. Two musical impresarios, gone. It wasn't fair they'd left me such a musical legacy when there was nothing I could do to make it endure.

I could have --- once. I had musical talent. I'd been a wonder-child along with my baby brother. He'd become interested in music by watching me. It wasn't my fault Papa had decided only one child could have center stage, only one child could be carefully sculpted for greatness. My brother. Not the girl-child who grew into a young woman too fast.

We'd started performing together in public thirty years earlier, in 1762. I was five years older than my brother, five years that accentuated his precocious talent and made mine less remarkable. If only we'd started touring when I was six years old and he still a baby. If only I'd had a few moments alone, basking in the glow of fame, letting the warmth of the accolades fall on me. Would Papa have pulled me onto his lap, looked into my eyes, and said, "You are an extraordinary child, Nannerl. With my help your talent will shine so kings and empresses will know your name and shake their heads in awe at your music"?

I tripped on a stone that had invaded the path. I righted my body --- and my thoughts. Life wasn't fair. Otherwise, why was my brother dead at thirty-five, and me alive to ... to do what?

The options were distressingly limited.

I was familiar with these thoughts and knew they would take me into dark corners where contentment was tightly bound and regrets had free rein. I knew I had to set them aside and get back to the task at hand.

Mound after mound of the dead.

I'd passed some nameplates on the outer wall. Perhaps ...

"May I help you, meine Dame?"

I nudged the hood aside so I could see the speaker. The man was stooped, dressed poorly, and carried a shovel. "I'm searching for the grave of a relative."

"When did he die?"

"Three months ago. The mountain passes ... I couldn't get through."

The man nodded. "There'll be no grave for him here. Not in this place. None you can visit."

"Why not?"

"You're not from Vienna, then?"

"I live in St. Gilgen."

"I don't know it."

Few did.

"It's a small town, east of Salzburg."

"Ah. It explains why you may not have heard about the law. Emperor Joseph decided people were spending too much on fancy funerals --- going into debt they were, 'specially with churches overcharging. He didn't like timber being wasted on coffins neither, and seeing's how coffins slow the body going to dust ... so a few years back he changed things. People didn't like it, and he took back some of the law, but still ... this is the way we do it most of the time. A few blessings, the ring of a bell, then drop-drop, into a common grave they go. A few handfuls of lime and I cover 'em up." He made a sprinkling motion with his arm, then nodded around him. "These are them."

I shuddered. "So he's ... with ... others?"

"We can fit up to six in a hole depending on how many need burying. We been ordered to dig 'em up after seven years to make room for more."

The way his eyes sparkled ... he clearly enjoyed my discomfort. I pointed toward the nameplates on the wall behind me. "There. May I find his name there?"

"He nobility?"

I hesitated. He longed to be. "No."

"Then you won't find his name."

This was unbearable. With no headstone and no marker, there could be no future flowers set in his memory, no hand on the gravestone making the coldness of death real, no letting my gaze linger on the deeply carved letters of his name and dates.

No proof he was gone.

And I was still alive.

I spotted another mourner close by. Oddly, the man did not politely look away but kept his eyes on me. I lowered my head within the folds of the hood. I did not need an audience for my disappointment.

>"Sorry to upset you," the grounds keeper said. "Even I admit it's a bad law. Maybe ... what was your loved one's name so I can say a prayer for him?"

I hesitated, then decided it was not my place to halt any prayer for my brother's soul, even one from such a man as this. "Mozart," I said. "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was my brother. I am his sister." The last I added for vanity's sake --- may God forgive me....

There was the flicker of recognition on his face, but I didn't have time to study it, for suddenly the other mourner rushed toward me. His face screamed recognition.

"Mozart? You're Mozart's sister?"

I took a step back, as did the cemetery worker.

The man stopped his approach but not his query. "You're Nannerl?"

For God to reward me with recognition after I had so pridefully sought such attention just moments before ... "Yes, I'm Nannerl," I said. I let the hood fall open so he could see my face, then pulled it tight again.

"I've been searching for his grave, his name," the man said. "I'm a writer and an admirer of his music. I have questions. So many questions."

I looked at the grounds keeper and nodded at him, giving him permission to go. He withdrew, leaving me alone with this stranger, this man in the middle of a cemetery. Yet I was not afraid nor concerned for my reputation. For who was there to see us but the dead and the grieving who were intent on their own private issues of character and situation?

The man gestured toward the exit, not twenty steps away. "Shall we, Fraulein Mozart?"

I accepted the idea of escape from this place and did not correct the name he'd connected with mine. He did not need to know that I was Frau Berchtold now: Baroness Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Berchtold zu Sonnenburg, but simply Nannerl to all who knew me. I was the wife of a man twice widowed, the mother of six children, and far, far removed from my brother's fame.

Too far removed.

You're due the recognition. You're entitled.

But was I?

The man paused outside the cemetery walls, giving me no chance to ponder such intricacies of my worth.

"I have been remiss in not introducing myself. I'm Friedrich Schlichtegroll." He offered a tight bow.

I let the hood fall to my shoulders. The cold air took possession of the space around my head, nipping at my ears, expelling the warmth I'd so carefully hoarded. "You have questions, Herr... ?"

"Schlichtegroll. Your brother's music is well known, but I want to confirm some of the details of his personal life. Is his wife still living? How many children does he have? Are they well? Where do they live? Was he working on any piece of music when he died?"

Each question produced a weight, as if the gray clouds were descending downward, threatening to release my own private storm. I longed for the anonymity of the hood.

"Fraulein Mozart?"

I needed to be away. Immediately. I looked for my carriage and spotted it a short distance to the right. "If you'll excuse me." I walked quickly, praying he wouldn't follow.

I heard no other feet crunching gravel. When I glanced back, he still stood at the entrance. He raised a hand and called after me, "But, Fraulein Mozart ... the questions are not difficult."

They shouldn't have been.

But they were.

Mama finished tying a ribbon in my hair. She stood and held out her hands to us. "Come. We must pray for God's blessings."

And lots of money.

Although Mama moved her lips she prayed silently. I could tell Wolfie wasn't praying because he was staring at the door, waiting for Papa. I too found it hard to concentrate on my heavenly Father while waiting for my earthly one to return.

Footsteps sounded in the hall. Mama dropped our hands and we all turned to face the door. Papa came in, smiling broadly. He carried two huge boxes. "First, I present to you gifts for the children."

He set the boxes on the bed. Wolfie pulled the red ribbon without asking, but I looked up at Papa. "May I?"

"You may."

I carefully removed the emerald-colored ribbon on the second box and handed it to Mama for later use in my hair. Then I removed the lid. And pulled in a breath. Inside was a white dress so beautiful I was hesitant to touch it. Certainly, it was made for a princess, not an ordinary girl like me. It had pink lace and silver braid at the neck and at the bottom of the sleeves and hem, and tiny ruffles around the neck.

"Oh, Nannerl," Mama said. "It's magnificent. A broche taffeta. And look at all the fine trimmings."

Wolfie had his box open too. His was a coat, vest, and breeches. "Mine's purple!"

Although it was hard to pull my eyes away from my own present, I glanced at his --- and corrected him. "It's lilac," I said. His suit had wide gold trim and satin cuffs. It was very beautiful, but not as beautiful as mine.

But as I took the dress out of the box, I was horrified to see it looked too small.

Mama held it up to me. "Oh dear," she said. "Last year this would have fit you, but not now." She looked up at Papa. "Perhaps we can exchange ..."

I knew it was awkward. One did not exchange gifts from royalty.

Papa confirmed my fears. "The note says Wolfie's suit was made for the son of the empress, Archduke Maximilian," Papa said. "And yours, Nannerl, was from the wardrobe of one of her daughters."

The empress and emperor had eleven daughters. I wondered which one had worn the dress. The dress I would never get to wear. Mama touched my cheek. Her eyes were kind.

As if to rub it in, Wolfie proclaimed, "I will wear my suit forever!" He put on the coat and turned in a circle. It fit him perfectly.

Mama put a hand on his shoulder, quieting him. "You will wear it until you grow too big."

"Which, unfortunately, will be too soon," Papa said sternly. But then his face changed. He smiled and pulled out a small velvet pouch. "I have received something even better than beautiful costumes."

Money! The disappointment of the dress was forgotten.

Mama held out her hand, her voice breathy. "How much?"

He put the pouch behind his back. "First, you must know the best news. His Majesty the Emperor has requested we remain in Vienna a little longer."

"You said yes, of course," Mama said.

He made a little bow. "Of course. His Majesty will summon us soon. But until then ..."

He emptied the pouch onto the bed. Mama knelt beside the mattress, staring at the coins. "So much!"

"One hundred ducats," Papa said. "Nearly two years of my violinist's salary back in Salzburg."

Wolfie ran his hands through the money, lifting it up, dropping it, making the coins clink and clatter. I reached out and took a coin I'd helped earn. I recognized the empress on its face, wearing a crown and standing with an orb-topped scepter and a sword. She looked prettier in person.

"In addition to your fur cape, I plan on buying us our own coach," Papa said. "With all our engagements, we've been needing a carriage two, three, even four times a day. Even when someone has been kind enough to provide the carriage, the tips to the driver and the footmen amount to the same expense as a hire."

"If you think it's necessary...." Mama stood. "And toward that end, I could forgo the new fur."

"Nonsense." Papa turned to us. "But remember, you children must play well to continue to earn such generous payments."

I would. I would play very well indeed.

Mozart's Sister
by by Nancy Moser

  • Genres: Christian, Fiction
  • paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bethany House
  • ISBN-10: 0764201239
  • ISBN-13: 9780764201233