I recently listened to a podcast about Maria Anna Mozart from Stuff You Missed in History Class (highly recommend—it’s one of my favorites!), and they focused on Maria Anna Mozart, the older sister of Wolfgang Mozart.
Maria Anna is the person who taught Wolfgang to play, as she had started learning the harp from the age of seven, and their parents took them to many cities to perform concerts during their childhood. She was Wolfgang’s idol, and helped him with his lessons.
However, when she was 18, her father forced her to stop touring and performing because it would “tarnish her marriage possibilities” and be “unseemly for a woman”. She was only allowed to give lessons, i.e. the only ‘appropriate’ work for a woman to do, which was something that happened a lot during that time period.
After their mother’s death she was forced even more into a ‘proper’ woman’s role, taking care of the house and her father, who completely controlled her. When Maria Anna fell in love and wanted to marry a captain and educator, her father wouldn’t allow her to because her brother had just married someone who their father hadn’t approved of and who was not well off, and so he forced her to marry a man who was. He was also 20 years older than her and had five children from two previous marriages.
Through all of this, she never stopped playing and composing her music and the copies she made are some of the only ones that now remain. She kept teaching well into her 70s and while many people thought this was from necessity, upon her death and the discovery of the large fortune she left behind, it was realized that she had taught because she’d wanted to.
Maria Anna is often referred to as a ‘silent genius’ and if she had had the same treatment as her brother, she would have been his equal in the music world. It is because she wasn’t allowed to continue performing her compositions nor maintain her musical output that she didn’t achieve the same fame as her brother. Long story short, because of sexism. Now we can appreciate her achievements and honor her memory not only with the recognition she deserves, but also with the acknowledgement of the societal forces and structures that stopped her from attaining her life’s desires.