Mozart and the Freemasons
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 meager.
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 favorably inclined to the Fraternity, although the clergy did their best to get the Lodges suppressed.
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 for more than two centuries and has been included in the standard repertoire of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and countless other opera companies around the world for years.
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 Dschinnistan. 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 rumors 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 Spirits, 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.