Last month, I discussed Labyrinth, its themes and takeaways, as well as a little bit of how it influenced Wintersong. This month I will be examining one of the other greatest influences on my book: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
If you look at the Goodreads summary for Wintersong, once (if) you get past the entire “Goblin King” aspect, you’ll notice that my protagonist, Liesl, is a composer. Music is an enormous part of the novel, and is, in many ways, the most important foundation of Wintersong, more so than Labyrinth. Music was the bedrock and beginning, the place from which I started to write.
In Wintersong’s origin story, I talked about how I had been writing a retelling of Die Zauberflöte that wasn’t working. Looking back, I can understand why it wasn’t working. The Magic Flute is my favorite of Mozart’s operas1, but I love the music, not necessarily the story. The story is both a fairytale rife with Masonic imagery and symbolism2 and a populist work of entertainment, so characterization is a bit thin. Tamino, Pamina, the Queen of the Night, Sarastro, et al are more ciphers than fully realized people. Except Papageno. I love Papageno, my darling little funny bird-man who just wants to find the love of his life and settle down. (I have a lot of Papageno feels, okay?)
All right, so I had to give up my desire to do something Mozart-related, but did that mean I had to let go of him altogether?
I can’t really explain why Mozart means a lot to me, only that he does. A few years ago, when I was in Europe for a family wedding, I took a private pilgrimage to Vienna and Salzburg, more or less for the express purpose of paying homage to my favourite composer. I grew up listening to (and learning to play) a lot of classical music and studied music history, so Mozart was another fixture of my childhood, just like Labyrinth. Perhaps an early viewing of the movie Amadeus had a profound effect on me (I did pitch Wintersong as “Labyrinth meets Amadeus.”) Perhaps the story of a creative person struggling with art (Salieri, not Mozart) spoke to me on a fundamental level.
Something I mentioned in my casting call about one of my characters, Josef, was “transcendence.” It’s a word I keep coming back to, especially with regards to Mozart’s music. Unlike Beethoven, whose early works were crowded with excess and whose later works were weighted with emotion, something about Mozart’s voice is light, almost ethereal or otherworldly, even in serious works like his unfinished Requiem in D Minor.
Listen to this bit from The Magic Flute.
The name Amadeus means “beloved of God,” a name that has such resonance for Mozart, particularly when I think of him.
Although Mozart has already died by the time the events in Wintersong occur, his memory casts a long shadow over the book. He was my inspiration after all, and not just because he was such a brilliant composer.
Wolfgang had an older sister named Maria Anna, whom the family affectionately called Nannerl. When he and his sister were children, they toured all over Europe as child prodigies. Nannerl, by all accounts, was just as—if not more—talented as her brother, and was even the headlining act. She was an incredibly accomplished keyboardist, and based on surviving letters we have from Wolfgang to his sister, she apparently dabbled a bit in composing as well. (We have nothing from Nannerl’s hand, unfortunately.) Yet, what happened to this rising star? Why did she fade from the public eye?
We know that Nannerl, unlike Wolfgang, was completely obedient to their father Leopold’s wishes. She retired from performing, got married, and disappeared from history. But her story has always haunted me. She was also a musical prodigy. She was apparently just as talented as her brother. What would the musical world be like if anything she wrote had survived?
There is a little bit of Nannerl in Liesl, a little bit of Sophia Dussek, a little bit of Clara Schumann née Wieck, and a little of so many other female voices lost to time.
Although I am trained in music—piano, flute, voice, guitar, clarinet, and the harp—I do not compose. Like Liesl in Wintersong, my musicianship is “instinctual, not cerebral.” I am not at all learned in theory or composition and for the longest time, I didn’t even know how to read music because I simply played most things by ear.3
While I do not compose, there is something about my act of creation, of genesis, in Liesl’s work. For all that Wintersong is a romantic coming-of-age story, it is an artistic journey as well. It’s about the permission to create, to find your voice, and to let yourself be heard.
That’s all for this month! If you want more behind the scenes goodness about Wintersong (and maybe the occasional recipe and giveaway!), please subscribe to my newsletter! The content you get in the newsletter is exclusive, and won’t be on my blog, so don’t miss out!