Academic claims Mozart stole concertos from his sister

Academic claims Mozart stole concertos from his sister

News

norman lebrecht

January 10, 2022

A retired professor in Darwin, Australia, claims he has proof that Mozart stole music from his sister Nannerl in two of his violin concertos.

The former conductor of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra told the national broadcaster ABC that the handwriting is quite different on two concertos out of the five.

Less excitable voices suggest that Nannerl might have copied out the scores for her brother.

There is no other surviving evidence that she was capable of composing at this level.

 

 

Comments

  • Y says:

    “Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays.”
    “Harper Lee didn’t write her own novel.”
    …and now, “Mozart didn’t write his own concerti.”

    Where does this mania originate? Is it just human nature to diminish the accomplishments of great people?

    • Herb says:

      The Iliad was not written by Homer, but by someone else of the same name.

      • John Borstlap says:

        It was his sister, but she was suppressed for having the impertinence to describe very manly proceedings, which was considered not becoming if she wanted to get married.

    • John says:

      Oh, and another: Einstein didn’t create the Special Theory of Relativity; his wife Mileva Maric did.

      Where’s an eyeroll emoji when you need one?

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Maybe the main reason for doubting this person’s theory is that so many people would want it to be true for the wrong reasons. Having said that, maybe I am guilty of wanting it to be false for the wrong reasons!

    Of course some of Fanny Mendelssohn’s compositions were published under her brother’s name — we know in particular that when Queen Victoria eagerly performed one of “his” songs for Mendelssohn to make him happy that he was inwardly upset that she had chosen one actually written by Fanny.

    The handwriting being different is interesting although who among us does not note difference in our own handwriting based on the pen or the physical posture while writing, or on the level of fatigue and writer’s cramp in the hand.

    Is he saying that the handwriting is that of Nannerl, or just different? My candidate for that other hand would be Brunetti. Mozart may have invited him to write out a passage in a way that would suit his own style or abilities; we know that when he DIDN’T do that for Brunetti he ended up having to compose an entire substitute movement or Brunetti wouldn’t play the piece. Without knowing more I’d say the practical conditions of music making and composition of that era make the intended performer a likely source of an outsider’s handwriting on the MS

    It is not unthinkable that Wolfgang might have even turned to his father for his expert’s view of how to write out a violin passage, although few if any have ever found Mozart wanting in how to write for violin. We know that some of the very early works of Mozart were aided by Leopold at least in terms of physically writing them out. We also know when that stopped, but it is one thing to no longer need help in how to compose and another to ask for help in how to make a concerto a showpiece.

    After all, F. David did that for Mendelssohn (who himself did play violin); Joachim did that for Brahms: suggesting how to write a passage in a violinistic way, with no suggestion that they were co-composers other than the cadenzas.

    It seems unlikely that he’d ask his pianist sister (who to my knowledge had never received violin lessons from her father) to do those sorts of things. But if he was rushed for time he might have asked for her help doing mechanical tasks of filling out the parts.

    Mozart’s letters to his older sister while he was on tours contain sophisticated musical discussions of what he was hearing and being influenced by, including one that mentions trying a new form of Minuet in Trio in a youthful symphony that was going to be in the style of Haydn, in terms that assumed Nannerl would know exactly what he was talking about. We know she was a very able keyboard player and that he respected her abilities. At some point he would not have asked for her help or advice any longer but the violin concertos are early works, with some scholars placing the Concerto No 1 very much earlier and some add Concerto No 2 to that same status.

    So, and again without seeing the evidence, I don’t rule out that Nannerl may have chipped in to assist in the completion of a score but that could still be short of actually being a co-composer, much less that even if he went so far as to accept compositional suggestions means Mozart “stole” ideas from her. I still think asking the violin soloist is more likely.

    I’m opining here without seeing what proof exists. Not a good habit to fall into.

    • Malcolm James says:

      The version of the Mendelssohn story I’ve heard is that Queen Victoria asked him to perform one of his Songs without Words and he chose to perform one of his sister’s which had been published in with his own. He could easily have chosen one of his and he confessed to Queen Victoria that he had played his sister’s work when she said how marvellous it was. Also, I can’t imagine that her work would have been published as his without his knowledge and consent. This makes him sound as though he was doing what he could to promote his sister’s work, within the confines of what was possible at the time.

    • David B says:

      This is the most reasonable, knowledgeable, and self-aware post I’ve ever seen on slippedisc, even though I do not necessarily share your level of initial skepticism. Like you say, without seeing his argumentation, we really cannot engage in a constructive debate. Slippedisc lives up to its reputation as a gossip blog by reporting on this without giving further information.

    • Linda Hoff says:

      Thank you for a very learned, articulate contribution to the discussion.
      By the way, I live in New Orleans and am going to Prague April 16 -22 and have tickets for “The Magic Flute” at the Tyl (“Estates”) Theater on April 21. Isn’t that fabulous! I am so thrilled.

  • fierywoman says:

    Is this the same person who suggested that Bach’s second wife wrote the 6 cello suites?

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Yes, sfortunatamente. Martin Jarvis. Just more of his nonsense. Brilliantly debunked by, among others, the clear-headed Steven Isserlis.

      Link here:

      https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2014/oct/29/why-bach-wife-cannot-take-credit-for-his-cello-masterwork

      Groan.

      • 18mebrumaire says:

        Presumably the same Professor Jarvis who (in the case of the Bach Suites) does not seem to grasp the difference between ‘written by’ and ‘composed by’ (see AMB’s title-page reproduced on IMSLP). Such confusion may apply similarly to the Mozart sources.

        • La plus belle voix says:

          Quite. These hands, or “witnesses” as musicologists working in the field of stemmatics call them, help construct a “stemma codicum” that posits who copied (in the sense of notating not appropriating) what from whom.

          Pity the prof. does not even look at musical style, and spot the smoking guns that would point to Wolfgang not Nannerl as the composer.

  • _ G says:

    Activist Revisionist History. Next thing you know they’ll claim Beethoven was black…

  • Freewheeler says:

    I didn’t know they had professors in Darwin.

  • Prozac Nation says:

    Yawn.
    ‘Men were never great! They stole from women! Bach, Mozart, Beethoven…any and all great white men from the past were horrible! Unless they were gay. Those men did nothing wrong. Ew, cis hetero males are the worst! Did you think Mozart was a genius?! It was AAAAALL his sister, all along! Btw, Beethoven was black, and Alma would have been a world famous composer if not for the patriarchy…’

  • Genius Repairman says:

    He says he has evidence. It will need to be good. As much as some of us would like to think that Bach’s cello suites were written by his wife, or Mozart’s sister wrote his violin concerti, or Fanny Mendelssohn wrote most or some of her brother’s output, without compelling evidence it is pretty much worthless speculation. I personally have a gut feeling that Fanny wrote the famous violin concerto, based upon themes in one of her verified chamber works, but I cannot back it up and don’t really know.

  • Scott Fruehwald says:

    Which two concertos is he claiming are by Mozart’s sister?

  • BigSir says:

    Oh right, and Einstein stole from Mileva and on and on the rewriting of history goes to fit the fashionable social movements of the day.

  • I recall the line about academics… they don’t have to be right, they just have to be interesting.

  • mary says:

    Let us not forget Anna Maria, Wolfgang Amadeus’s mother, who taught little Mozart everything about harmony, voicing, human relations, women’s grief and suffering, all reflected in his operas’ themes, characters and arias.

    Daddy Leopold wrongly got all the credit, he was just a glorified soccer Dad who shuttled his son in the family station wagon all around Europe from gig to gig.

  • Frank Flambeau says:

    No way of proving or disproving these claims; I would not be surprised if he was inspired by her but this claim is different.

  • Malcolm James says:

    This appears to be the same academic who claimed a number of years ago that Bach’s wife composed his cello suites – a claim which has been completely debunked. https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2014/oct/29/why-bach-wife-cannot-take-credit-for-his-cello-masterwork

  • Forza says:

    Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not as if the Mozart violin concertos were of any great artistic quality whatsoever, regardless of if he or Nannerl wrote them. I’d much rather listen to his piano concerti in any case. Or Haydn cello concerti.

    • Malcolm James says:

      The last 3 are very good and get played regularly, but nos 1 and 2 are considered to be less good. I wonder which two Prof. Jarvis thinks Nannerl might have had a hand in.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Retired academics who suddenly have nothing to do, begin to look TV and discover a whole new field of inquiry with the ‘them too!’ movement. Of course Nannerl wrote the concertos, in this way her dominating brother can be painted as representing patriarchal suppression of the feminine, he let himself to be an instrument of social injustice. Although we cannot be for 100% sure, it would be better to be on the safe side and ascribe the concertos to Nannerl Mozart.

  • Alan Glick says:

    Seems to be a pattern with this professor as this is not the first time he has claimed a famous composer’s work was actually written by a female family member. I remember when feminism was first making the rounds many skeptical Lotharios would pay mere lip service to this theory in hopes of getting a return favor in like coin.

  • Bill Ecker says:

    We know that Felix Mendelssohn agreed to have his sister Fannie’s early works published under his name, as she knew it would be difficult at best at that time publishing them under her own name. Zwolf Lieder op. 9 is an example of this. This is now a well known fact. The works do not sound like her brother’s works and also specifically sound like her later published works. The surviving manuscripts are also in her specific hand. There is also surviving correspondence.

    If this new Mozart kerfuffle were true, it is entirely new news without any previous whispers, or hints in the history of the subject works the professor has isolated. One has to also consider the scores Professor Jarvis is viewing could be copyist scores, for that matter his sister could have accomplished them for her brother. Mozart was known for not changing, or editing his works by and large, so in most cases, they were clean like a score prepared by the composer, or copyist for the engraver and not a working manuscript. (I know of some very specific examples where he in fact made changes, but that was the exception and not the rule.) Keeping in mind, Wolfgang with his exceptionally fertile mind was a one arm paper hanger in his youth, constantly performing and composing, being feted, rarely at home and often spending months at a time in various cities in Europe and while Nannerl did accompany him from the earliest of ages, she was often at home with her mother whilst their father toured his little prodigy. (The old “Mozart slept, or lived here” concept that garners plaques around some European homes.) Also, as the Professor states in his interview, “she may well” is leading and not exact and does not stand to scrutiny for something such as this. Touting unprovable theories to the press and public is wrong. I understand he is focusing on three violin concertos and the problem for him, is the concertos all instinctively sound like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s works, not another composer. Also a female composer at that time, like Fanny Mendelssohn slightly later did not undertake writing big orchestral pieces, they wrote hausmusik, songs and solo works, what is referred to as a miniature, a string quartet was the largest scale work she accomplished. A concerto for solo instrument and orchestra is a big undertaking versus a miniature work. Granted both children were trained by Leopold, so their training was the same, but that does not speak to a mimic in style and form. The professor then proffers the idea that there is a change in the order of the name on the published work. Has he ever looked at Beethoven scores to see how many different ways his name was published? (Quite a variety by the way) I would suggest this “discovery” cannot be proven unless there is correspondence describing the “ruse” and now, at least for a short period of time may cast a cloud over the works, which is frankly unfair and completely premature at best. Like scientific breakthroughs, if you can’t specifically prove the theory is true and you are ethical, you don’t announce and you don’t publish to the world and accept interviews. Also, has the Professor been able to find any Mozart scholars of fine repute to back up his claims?

    To me, this bears the stench of the self proclaimed musicological Indiana Jones, Christopher Hogwood’s “discoveries” which we often learned was far from the truth after he touted his “news” through the press. His last “discovery” was a little Brahms waltz where I had been involved with the subject matter months before he ever saw the piece he claimed to have discovered. By the time Hogwood saw the album which contained the waltz, it had been performed twice once in Germany at a Brahms conference in Kiel and prior to that by the pianist Craig Sheppard through the American Brahms Societies auspices in a Seattle recital. We then had to go around correcting all of the press pieces his publicist had run out to the public and his announced “premiere” of the work was scrapped. Today, there are still remnants on-line his publicist farmed to the public of this “fake news”. Here is the reference to the complete story if you are interested. https://tinyurl.com/yv2ystr7

    In this case, the Professor is dealing with two particularly well known works musicologists have poured through for two centuries. One of the unique things about Mozart, was the fact that he rarely quoted other composers and in one instance that I can think of, in “Don Giovanni” in the banquet scene there is even a citation in the libretto a fragment performed of Soler’s “Cosa Rara”. So when he mentions his Bach “theory” in his recent interview, it really does not apply here. Therefore, I’m not sure this Mozart “revelation” is even worth the time and energy to debunk.

    The biggest problem is, these hired publicists do not question the validity of the announcement before they take on jobs. They figure the person is of some sort of musical stature, so they take the money, disseminate, arrange for interviews and run on to their next gig. Generally, they know nothing about the subject they tout.

  • Frank says:

    What about all the composers who have shamelessly stolen from/plagiarised/pastiched Mozart since his untimely tumble into an unmarked pauper’s grave – they are the ones guilty of a far greater crime. But the professor does not consider that. Shame on him.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    I suspect that Professor Martin Jarvis stole that theory from his mother-in-law.

  • Karl says:

    Could Mozart also have been black like Beethoven?

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