The Music Books of Mozart & His Sister

Sheet Music Review

The Music Book for Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart (compiled by Leopold Mozart in 1759) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s London Sketchbook (1764) are surely established at the very pinnacle of the pedagogic keyboard repertoire, their status secure alongside Bach’s Anna Magdalena Notebook, Schumann’s Album for the Young and Bartók’s For Children.

And yet, honestly, how many piano teachers are truly familiar with the contents of these collections, beyond the few favourites that are regularly cherry-picked for exam syllabi and educational repertoire collections? I’m certainly willing, if hardly happy, to plead guilty to the charge of somewhat overlooking this music.

But it turns out that there is a good reason why most of us don’t know these pedagogic collections inside out: while many selections of pieces from these notebooks are available elsewhere, most collections limit themselves to those written by Wolfgang Amadeus and, remarkably there isn’t a full published edition on the market.

No – seriously!

Well thankfully Bärenreiter Urtext Edition are now rectifying this situation with a new complete publication based on the New Mozart Edition. According to the publishers,

“Until now the edition The Music Books of Mozart and his Sister has only been available as part of the boxed set of Mozart’s oeuvre for piano (BA 5749) which has gone out of print. Now for the first time, it can be purchased separately.

“Based on the New Mozart Edition, this is the only publication to contain all the pieces, sketches and fragments found in the notebooks. The Foreword by the great Mozart scholar Wolfgang Plath provides valuable information on the pieces themselves and on the question of their authorship; besides Mozart’s earliest juvenilia, some of which formed the basis of later compositions, the notebooks also contain works by Leopold Mozart and other composers.”

This sounds plausibly irresistible, but as always, we’ll take a closer look …

The Music Books of the Mozarts

Best to start with a quick reminder of the huge significance of the two collections included in this unique publication.

Introducing it, Wolfgang Rehm writes:

“The music books of Wolfgang and Nannerl Mozart contain not only Mozart’s earliest juvenilia but also, in “Nannerl’s Book”, all those pieces of various length by other composers that the boy genius played while growing up.”

This in itself should surely be enough to pique the interest of serious music lovers and inquisitive educationalists.

Leopold Mozart put together the Music Book for Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart starting 1759, seemingly in celebration of her name-day, and perhaps with a view to her move towards more formal tuition. The Book was subsequently added to extensively, and seems to have been designed as an evolving anthology of the music she learnt to play.

Most of the pieces are by Leopold himself, although over time it seems clear that the Book was shared with Nannerl’s infant brother, Wolfgang Amadeus. Indeed, it is estimated that 18 of the 64 original compositions included in the collection were composed by Wolfgang himself, though notated in Leopold’s handwriting (the young Wolfgang learnt to play and compose before learning music notation).

The London Sketchbook (1764) is a very different prospect. Here, rather than collating the pieces Wolfgang was now playing and performing around Europe, the intention seems to have been to provide him with a sketchbook for his own burgeoning efforts at composing. There are 42 compositions in the Sketchbook, all by Wolfgang Amadeus, and in this edition a couple of alternative versions also appear as an appendix.

The music here is a reminder, were one needed, that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a unique talent, an extraordinary genius. But in Nannerl’s Music Book we also see the brilliance of father Leopold, whose undeniable ability to turn a memorable melody must surely not be overlooked!

The Publication

The Music Books of Mozart and his Sister

This sizeable volume appears in Bärenreiter’s gorgeous house style, with a vivid red soft-touch cover opening to lush cream paper. Although there are 172 pages here, the stitched binding opens flat at any selected page and is made to last a lifetime of regular use.

The notation is based on the 1982 setting of the New Mozart Edition and is in the text and music fonts of that time – to my eyes just very slightly less crisp on the page than Bärenreiter’s more recent publications, but certainly outstanding compared to the standards of many others.


Mozart Menuett in C Menuett in F


This is an urtext edition without editorial fingering. Students learning these pieces would almost certainly need a teacher’s help here; those using this publication with developing players should bear this in mind and if necessary experiment and prepare suitable fingerings in advance of teaching the pieces.

Similarly, it would be a good idea to consider ornamentation carefully; in some cases explanations and alternatives are included in small print, but this is not always the case; a solid understanding of the playing conventions of the mid eighteenth-century seems to me a prerequisite for successfully playing and teaching the pieces.

The seven-page Preface is a reduction of editor Wolfgang Plath’s lengthy academic introduction from the 1982 library publication, and offers fascinating insights into the chequered history of the actual Music Book and London Sketchbook, as they have passed through numerous hands since the deaths of the Mozarts themselves.

While the Preface appears in both the original German and an English translation (by J. Bradford Robinson), some text within the main publication appears in German only.

There are six pages of facsimile illustrations showing the original hand-written scores; these are always welcome in my view, adding texture to the historical narrative of the music.

Conclusion

In some respects it would be easy to relegate this publication to the library, assuming the main interest in its content would be among academic historians and Mozart scholars.

This would be a pity I think, not just because the music books of the Mozart children offer such a fascinating glimpse of their musical development, but because the delightful pieces that pepper these collections are just as eminently suitable for today’s developing musicians as they were when they were written.

Of course, snazzy new pieces for children learning the piano appear with very welcome regularity, and rightly so, but I think piano teaching would be the poorer were we to neglect the treasures of our musical heritage.

In particular, the pieces here offer a wonderful opportunity for the development of melodic sensibility and cantabile phrasing, as well as for developing clarity and balance between the hands. They require very particular precision, articulation and awareness of the dance rhythms of the period.

In other words, they naturally lay a foundation for later classical piano playing that more recent compositions rarely seek to address (and speaking as an educational composer myself, I don’t write music to replace that of previous generations, but to supplement it, as I know do many of my peers).

Not that I’m suggesting we teachers should require our young pupils to all rush to purchase such a meaty tome…

But certainly this complete edition now becomes an essential resource for the curious piano teacher keen to rightly understand Mozart’s genius and his formative contribution to the classical style. Indeed, this is music which we would all do well to fully and firmly acquaint ourselves with and draw from in our teaching.

Adult learners and enthusiasts too should find plenty here to delight and inspire as they explore the attractions of these 100+ delightful miniature masterpieces which epitomise the Age of the Enlightenment.

The edition itself is beautifully put together, the attention afforded to every detail adding to an overwhelming sense of quality. Bärenreiter have once again delivered a music book to treasure.

Indeed, Wolfgang and Nannerl clearly delighted in their music books; brought back to life so eloquently by Bärenreiter we can now thoroughly enjoy them too, and what a privilege!

OUTSTANDING


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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

2 thoughts on “The Music Books of Mozart & His Sister”

  1. Total non-sequitur on this blog but just wanted to let you know that reading your blog was part of what finally inspired me to dig the old electronic keyboard out of the closet and try to play the song in my head on it. Now I really wish I could write the music down to send it to someone more adept to see if it’s possible to play this fluidly – or whether I’m just so out of practice my hands need a lot of oiling (and probably 30 years removed from them).

    Liked by 1 person

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