Saturday, August 9, 2014

Mozart's Sister, the Dauphin and the Abbess

My husband and I rented this French language film from and watched it Thursday night. It is a fictionalized account of the early life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's sister, Maria Anna, nicknamed Nannerl. The movie depicts the Mozart family on tour, enduring disappointment, delays, and other misfortunes along the way. Both Wolfgang and Nannerl tire of their father's lying about their ages to make their musical prodigality appear more amazing, and forcing them to practice, practice, practice!

The film is beautifully made, with scenes filmed at Versailles and in Paris (I recognized the Chapelle de la Vierge with its musical angels at St. Germain L'Auxerrois, next to the Louvre). The plot is entirely imaginary, of course, as Nannerl, dressed as a boy, visits the Dauphin of France, writes a violin concerto for him, and is devastated by his ultimate response.

She also meets the Dauphin's three sisters in their convent retreat (when the axle breaks on their coach as the Mozart family travels to Paris). Louise, the youngest of Louis XV's children, and Nannerl become friends, as Nannerl is her messenger to the man Louise plans to marry. But Louise instead decides to join the Carmel at St. Denis, praying in reparation for her father's sins. As Sr. Therese of Saint Augustine, she eventually becomes Abbess at St. Denis. According to this Wikipedia article, her last words were: Au paradis! Vite! Au grand galop!" ("To paradise! Fast! At the great gallop!). She was declared Venerable by Pope Pius IX.

After the movie it was fun to try to explain all the Dauphins and the succession of the House of Bourbon to my husband. The Dauphin in this movie was the son of Louis XV and father of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X. He was also named Louis and died in 1765, before his father died, and thus never reigned. Mozart's Sister depicts him as mentally unstable, morbid, and even sexually ambivalent. The "trouser role" Nannerl plays creates the same tension and uncertainty as Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro. There was one musical detail I wondered about--the Dauphin asks the trousered Nannerl if she can sing Gregorio Allegri's Miserere; I thought that the music for the Miserere wasn't widely available until Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart transcribed it in 1771, and the action in this movie predates his visit to the Sistine Chapel. The Dauphin wants to know if he/she can sing the beautiful high notes of that setting of Psalm 51--and she/he can!

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