Marie Lu & the Invisible Women of Music History


Warning: Spoilers for The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu below!

“I am going to tell you a story you already know. But listen carefully, because within it is one you have never heard.” 

Marie Lu, The Kingdom of Back

Ask someone to name a famous composer and you’re sure to receive the same handful of names: Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Wagner, Schubert, Brahms, and of course, Mozart. What do all these musical legends have in common? Well, they’re all European men. But what if I were to tell you that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a sister whose musical genius rivaled his own? Her name was Maria Anna Mozart, “Nannerl” for short, and Marie Lu’s newest young adult historical fantasy, The Kingdom of Back, is all about her story. 

Released in early March of this year by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, The Kingdom of Back fuses history and magic in a tale exploring the largely forgotten life of Wolfgang’s older sister. Just as talented as her brother, Nannerl was the first Mozart sibling to play the clavier with shocking skill. However, as a woman living in the 18th century, she was never afforded the same opportunities as her brother. 

“When I dreamed, I dreamed in new measures and keys, compositions I would never dare write down. I was, after all, not my brother.” 

Marie Lu, The Kingdom of Back

While a young Wolfgang was writing notorious compositions, Nannerl was preparing for marriage, forbidden by her father to follow her musical talent into adulthood. Although this didn’t stop the two child prodigies from being close siblings, as Wolfgang very much admired his sister. Recovered letters even show Wolfgang asking Nannerl for copies of her compositions and perhaps even for advice on his own. As children they shared an active imagination, creating a magical world together— a place called “the Kingdom of Back”—to pass the time during their frequent tours of Europe. 

As you might have guessed, this is where The Kingdom of Back takes its inspiration and title from. In Marie Lu’s reimagining of the story, a young Nannerl fears being forgotten as Wolfgang steps into the spotlight and she is forced to secede. Haunted by dreams of the Kingdom of Back, she realizes that this magical realm is more real than she could’ve imagined. So, Nannerl strikes a deal with a mischievous faerie princeling to grant her wish for immortality.  

While magic abounds in The Kingdom of Back, at the heart of Marie Lu’s newest book is an all too familiar story. One where a talented girl wanted and deserved to be remembered. Not just as “Mozart’s sister” but as her own person. However, due to the injustices of her time (and, sadly, of our own), only one Mozart sibling has been immortalized in history. To make matters worse, Nannerl’s fate is unfortunately not unique. The same systematic erasure has and continues to occur— and not just on the basis of gender. As such, Marie Lu writes just this in her author’s note to The Kingdom of Back

“What beautiful creations were lost to us forever because Nannerl was a woman? How many other countless talents have been silenced by history, whether for their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status?” 

Marie Lu, The Kingdom of Back

While Nannerl’s music may be lost to time, hopefully, with books like The Kingdom of Back, we can begin to showcase the many artists erased by the prejudice of history. Not just Nannerl, but other ingenious female composers like Nora Holt, Hildegard of Bingen, Clara Schumann, Xiao Shuxian, Florence B. Price, and so many more. So perhaps now if someone asks you to name a famous composer, you can say: “Have you ever heard of Nannerl Mozart? Well, let me tell you a story.” 

PRR Writer, Hannah Miller

Pick up your own copy today!