An e-Zine of Masonic Re-Prints and Extracts from various sources.
BROTHER MOZART AND “THE MAGIC FLUTE”
Newcomb Condee 33 deg
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was twenty-eight years of age when, in the
autumn of 1784, he joined a Masonic Lodge. As a pianist, little Wolfgang
had been an infant prodigy, exhibited by his father throughout Europe,
but he was now a recognized and admired composer living in Vienna. The
very year of his initiation his first great opera, The Marriage of
Figaro, had been produced in Paris. This was, however, before the days
of copyright law and the earnings of genius were meagre.
During the eighteenth century, Freemasonry in Vienna had a political as
well as a benevolent side. It counted as its members many highly placed
politicians and ecclesiastics whose ideal was the regeneration of
humanity by moral means. It was hated by the Catholic Church and certain
despotic political authorities who deemed it dangerous, both to religion
and the well being of the state. The Church, however, even as today in
certain Latin countries, did not consider it expedient to challenge
high-placed persons nominally its members but also of the Fraternity.
The Empress Maria Theresa had been one who was opposed to
Masonry and, in 1743, had ordered a Viennese Lodge raided, forcing its
Master and her husband, Francis I, to make his escape by a secret
staircase. The Emperor Joseph II (1780-90) was favourably inclined to
the Fraternity, although the clergy did their best to get the Lodges
Such was the Masonic milieu when Wolfgang Mozart became a Master
Mason. He must have been greatly moved and inspired by his
experience. Almost immediately he composed his Freemason’s Funeral
Music and his music for the opening and closing of a Lodge. He now
composed his opera, Don Giovanni, and his three great symphonies –
the E flat, the G minor and the C major, as well as a great number of
concertos and chamber-music works.
His last great opera, The Magic Flute, opened in Vienna on the evening
of September 30, 1791. Mozart conducted the first two performances,
when he was overtaken by his last illness. He lingered on while the
opera had an unprecedented run of more than one hundred consecutive
performances. It is said that in his sick bed, watch in hand, he would
follow in imagination the performance of The Magic Flute in the
theatre. Then he died after its 67th performance.
The Magic Flute makes no mention of Freemasonry as such, but it has
always been accepted as a Masonic opera. Musicians assert that even
the music has much Craft significance, beginning in the overture with
its three solemn chords in the brass.
In keeping with the fashion of the time, the plot is half-serious,
half-comic, a fantasy of magic and mystery laid in a never-never land
called Egypt. It depicts the ancient mysteries and presents much Craft
symbolism. To the Viennese of that day, The Queen of the, Night was
clearly the unfriendly Empress Maria Theresa; the good Sarastro was
Ignas von Born, an eminent scientist and Masonic leader; the hero
Tamino was the good Emperor Joseph and the heroine Pamina, the
Austrian people themselves.
The first program credited the libretto to the actor-producer,
Schikaneder, but it is now thought that it was written by Giesceke, the
friend and intimate of Goethe and Schiller, who probably desired to
remain anonymous for political reasons. The opera has remained
popular through the years and is included in the present repertoire of
the Metropolitan Opera Company.
Liner notes posted from a Compact Disk
“Highlights from Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
commonly referred to as “The Masonic
The sources and influences of The Magic Flute are many, the most
obvious being Lulu, or the Magic Flute by Christoph Martin Wieland,
one of a collection of fairy stories published in 1786 under the title
This had already inspired several Singspiel productions by various
companies with such titles as Kaspar the Bassoon Player, or The Magic
Zither. But the oriental decor and magical effects taken from this
source provide only one level of Mozart’s work, for underlying them are
pervasive references to the mysteries of Freemasonry.
Mozart, a Freemason since 1784, and Schikaneder, a fellow Mason of a
different lodge, had embodied much of Masonic teaching and
symbolism in their opera. In using the symbols and, by many accounts,
references to the actual rituals of Freemasonry, they may have intended
to make subtle demonstration of the society’s high-minded purposes. It
seems at least possible, in other words, that the opera was intended in
part as a defense of the Masons. (For two centuries there have been
rumours and speculation that Mozart was murdered by the Masons for
revealing their secrets, but this seems unlikely for several reasons.
His collaborator and fellow Freemason, Schikaneder, lived for another two
decades. Mozart’s close personal identification with Masonic tenets and
his frequent contact with high-ranking leaders of the society are
well-documented in his letters, and it is improbable that he would have
defied the society’s strictures, or that he would have been unaware of
what he could use in a public work and what could not be revealed.)
The number three had a deep significance for the Masons, and it keeps
occurring throughout The Magic Flute: Three Ladies, Three Boys, three
temples, and so forth. A drawing of Schikaneder’s revival production of
1794 shows that in the opening scene the Three Ladies kill the serpent
by cutting it into three pieces. The opera’s home key of E-flat
(redolent of virtue, nobility, and repose) was often used by Mozart for his
Masonic compositions because of its signature of three flats. Prominent
in the Overture is the three-fold repetition of the Masonic rhythmic
motto (short-long-long), also heard in Act II of the opera itself.
Also Masonic in origin are the inscriptions on the three temples:
“Wisdom,” “Reason,” and “Nature.” Freemasons in the audience would
have recognized the symbolic armour of the guardians during the
initiation trials, the earth-air-water-fire symbolism of the trials
themselves, the Ladies’ silver spears, Papageno’s golden padlock,
Sarastro’s lion-drawn chariot, Tamino’s death-like swoon, and the
Queen of the Night’s defeat by the powers of light.
In his admirable book The Magic Flute, Masonic Opera, Jacques
Chailley makes a convincing argument that the trials of the opera’s
second act (as well as much that leads up to them in the first act) are
modeled on actual Masonic initiation rituals. Even an apparently
unrelated incident like Tamino’s fainting spell in the opening scene,
for instance, is interpreted as a reference to the beginning of such
rituals, when the initiate is made to lie face down as a symbol of death to old
habits of thought and action.
Brigid Brophy, in her fine study, Mozart the Dramatist, points out the
origins of Masonic practices in the Eleusinian mysteries and Orphic
myths of the ancient world. She documents the libretto’s heavy debt to
The Life of Sethos, a novel published in Paris in 1731 by the abbé Jean
Terrasson Purporting to be a translation from an ancient Greek source,
this book recounts the initiation of its Egyptian hero into the
mysteries of Isis. As Ms. Brophy points out, “Terrasson does not (but then one
would not expect him to) explicitly connect his Isiac mysteries with
Masonry; indeed, it is possible that the real influence was the other
way about and the Masons borrowed hints for their own ritual from
Terrasson’s fictionalized Egypt.”
Mozart and Schikaneder were also well-acquainted with the works of
Shakespeare. Many fascinating parallels between The Magic Flute and
The Tempest are noted in Mozart on the Stage, by János Liebner.
Sarastro, the opera’s controlling force, is similar to Shakespeare’s
Prospero. Each plans the union of two chosen lovers but makes the way
arduous in order to strengthen the bond. Monostatos and Caliban are
very similar creations, symbols of our baser nature to be overcome and
cast off. The unworldly innocence of the Three Boys finds its
counterpart in Ariel, Prospero’s sprightly servant and messenger.
Each succeeding era has seen The Magic Flute in its own way, and each
of these interpretations has validity. Whether the opera is viewed as a
light-hearted fantasy, Enlightenment allegory, veiled Masonic ritual, or
a lost battle in the struggle for feminine equality, it speaks anew of
magic and maturation to each successive generation.
Freemasonry in Crisis
Since the Masonic lodges operated openly in Mozart’s Vienna and
numbered among their members many of the highest officials of the
realm, we may ask ourselves why two Masons, Mozart and
Schikaneder, felt it necessary to compromise Masonic silence and
portray so many of the society’s secret symbols and beliefs in a public
entertainment like The Magic Flute. If they, as the eminent scholar H.
C. Robbins Landon has written, “risked a long shot – to save the Craft
by an allegorical opera,” what was the peril by which the once-powerful
society was threatened? What forces ultimately caused their attempt to
be futile, ending in the complete suppression of Masonry only four
The answers are to be found in the revolutionary cross-currents of that
turbulent era, and in the involvement of many of the Masons, even
many of the highly placed aristocrats, in activities that threatened the
thrones of Europe.
Freemasonry evolved from some of the craftsmen’s guilds of the Middle
Ages (which helps explain its name and why its adherents refer to it as
the Craft), but its rise to prominence began in the mid-eighteenth
century. Its espousal of Wisdom, Beauty, Knowledge, and Truth made
it attractive to adherents of Enlightenment philosophies (with their
de-emphasis of traditional religion in favour of individual moral
advancement), which included most of the best minds in Europe and
America. Viennese Masons included Mozart, who joined in 1784, his
friend and admirer Franz Joseph Haydn, initiated in 1785, and Mozart’s
father Leopold, who joined at his son’s instigation in 1785 and
advanced to the third degree of membership in just sixteen days. The
head of Mozart’s lodge was Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, Haydn’s patron
and a high-ranking diplomat in the imperial government. Freemasonry
thrived in the empire despite the enmity of the Roman Catholic Church
(a Papal Bull condemning the Craft in 1738 was simply ignored in
Austria and its territories) and that of the powerful Empress Maria
Theresa (whose younger son, the future Leopold II, had reputedly been
elevated to the Eighteenth Degree of the Scottish Rite of Masonry).
But although a succession of Austrian emperors took a benign view of
Masonry’s espousal of the Enlightened notion that all men are
perfectible through Reason, they naturally smelled treason when certain
of the Masons went a step further and argued that in a fully enlightened
society there was no need for monarchs. Masonry’s insistence on
shrouding its inner workings in secrecy worked against it, for the code
of silence allowed treasonous sects to flourish within the Craft and at
the same time caused government officials to imagine Masonic
excesses much greater that those that actually occurred. In the end,
the emperor felt he had no choice except to ban Masonry outright.
Probably the most virulently anti-monarchic sect of Masonry was the
Illuminati, founded in Bavaria by Adam Weishaupt, a university
professor, in 1776. Weishaupt joined the Masons the following year
and soon allied the Illuminati with them. The sect’s original aim was to
fight evil and defend good causes, but this was soon expanded with
anti-clerical and anti-royalist sentiments. The Illuminati operated for
only a decade and probably never had more than 2000 members, but
they panicked the royalty, who became suspicious of all Masonry.
The crowned heads had good reason to connect Masonic Lodges with
revolutionary activities. Many of the leaders of the American colonies’
revolt against their British king in 1776 were Masons, including George
Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. In France
Masons were behind the push for republican government that led to the
French Revolution (which, incidently, went much further than those
high-minded aristocrats had foreseen and claimed most of them among
its victims). The Austrian emperor heard first-hand reports of the
uproar in Paris from his sister, the French Queen Marie-Antoinette.
Austrian attempts to control the Masons included Joseph II’s decree of
1781, forbidding any order to submit to foreign authority. This led to
severing Masonic ties with the Grand Lodge of Britain and setting up
Austria’s own governing body, the Grosse Landesloge von Österreich.
In 1785 another imperial edict centralized the country’s lodges and
limited their autonomy. The proliferation of local lodges was reduced
(only three remained in Vienna), and the members of each were limited
to 180. Regular reports of lodge meetings and attendance had to be
submitted to the Emperor’s police.
In 1790 Joseph II died and was succeeded by his brother, Leopold II.
With the French Revolution in full cry, the Austrian government was
becoming exceedingly alarmed about treasonous sentiments in the land
and especially in the Masonic orders. That same year a lodge of
Illuminati was uncovered in Prague, and names of high officials were
increasingly mentioned in secret police reports to the emperor. As
Landon points out, Austria was fast becoming a police state.
This was the demoralizing situation for Austrian Freemasons when
Mozart and Schikaneder decided that their Singspiel would be more
than merely light and entertaining, that it would demonstrate the
probity and superiority of Masonic teachings. They may have had hopes of
saving the Craft from total suppression, but those hopes were in vain.
Leopold II died just six months after The Magic Flute’s premiere and he
was succeeded by his son, Francis II. The imperial government under
the young and inexperienced Francis became dominated by
conservative advisors and consequently swung even further to the right.
In June of 1795 an order came down to close all Masonic lodges and
other secret societies and Freemasonry ceased to exist in Austria for
more than a century.