Chess during Mozart's time: "Nannerl"

by Franz Hager
3/2/2014 – If Austria's top female player, Eva Moser, ever writes a chess biography entitled "My Great Predecessors", she will be obligated to start with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's sister Maria Anna. Maria Anna ("Nannerl") Mozart is the first specifically documented female chess player in Salzburg, Austria. In fact, the game of chess had a significant presence in the home of the Mozarts.

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As described by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's father, the Vice-Kapellmeister Leopold (1719-1787) in 1784 in a letter to the patroness of Mozart, Baroness von Waldstätten: in his later years he would spend time with his daughter "Nannerl", then 33 years old and also play chess. This was none other than Amadeus's very beloved sister Maria Anna, who was also a gifted pianist, but overshadowed by her brother.

Maria Anna ("Nannerl") Mozart

"... Reading, music and a walk are our entertainment, and in bad weather we play Tarock (a card game) and even an occasional game of chess...."

Leopold Mozart was born in Augsburg and in 1737 began studying in Salzburg. In his estate there was also the chess book of the Syrian Philippe Stamma. Leopold Mozart himself had written an influential textbook on violin instruction in 1756. The Mozarts had therefore acquired a theoretical understanding of chess.

The title of the work the Mozarts owned. The translation reads
"Essay on the game of chess - where some rules are given to
play it well, and acquire an advantage through fine moves that
one can call the secrets of the game. By the gentleman Philippe
Stamma, a native of Aiep in Syria."

Maria-Anna had her desired love match denied and obligated to to make a financially good match. She and her older honest noble husband, Berchtold zu Sonnenburg (1751-1829), never understood each other. As a piano teacher, she later lived in St. Gilgen am Wolfgangsee (the former resort of the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl) and in Salzburg. She had three children of her own with him. It is thanks to Maria-Anna that many letters and works of her brother survived.

Maria-Anna, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Leopold

As to the brother, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart there is no record of his playing chess, though it is well-documented that he was particularly fond of puzzles, number games and decipherable language games, not to mention various card games in which many scholars believe he gambled large sums, as well as billiards.

Prof. Günther Bauer has intensively researched the games played at the time of Mozart in his works. The Salzburg Institute for Game Research has published well-known books on the topic. Unfortunately, the letters from Wolfgang's time in Vienna are lost. There he gladly visited the premises in Vienna's Prater and Augarten in the second District. The question as to Wolfgang Amadeus's ability in chess, and frequence he played it, remains open.

German and French translation by Albert Silver

Lawyer and casual gamer with an interest in the history of chess in Salzburg.


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