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November 2020

II - 1791, The Magic Flute Masonic opera - myth or reality?


After having described Mozart's Masonic turning point[1], it was difficult not to immediately continue with an evocation of his penultimate opera: Die Zauberflöte / The Magic Flute. Indeed, even if it is not intended for the use of the lodges, his opera is closely linked to Mozart’s ideas on Freemasonry and society.


Mozart has always considered the composition of operas to be one of his favorite works. It is therefore with happiness that he accepts in this spring of 1791 the proposal of his friend and brother-mason Emanuel Schikaneder to compose, again in German, a magical opera for the theater “Auf der Wienden” located in a popular suburb of Vienna and whose libretto is written by Schikaneder himself who is already reserving for himself Papageno’s role


To meet the taste of a simple popular audience ... the theater of Schikaneder, offered above all "Singspiel" (works alternating airs, duets, ensembles and choirs separated by spoken dialogues) and magical pieces with staging spectacular, complicated machinery, living animals, lightning and thunder, extraordinary twists and turns in action[2] ... But one should not imagine that Mozart composed The Magic Flute for the uneducated audience of a second-class theater. The intellectual elite, the aristocracy and the emperor himself did not hesitate to mingle with the simpler and less educated spectators.


Mozart therefore accepts the order and in 6 months composes an opera intended directly for a popular Viennese audience "while being encrypted for true connoisseurs" [3]. It follows the tradition of the "singspiel". The opera was completed on September 28, 1791 (a little over two months before his death); on the 29th the dress rehearsal takes place. The first, conducted on the harpsichord by Mozart himself, takes place on September 30. At the end of the first act, the success is still uncertain, the audience is disconcerted, although they realize that they are discovering a work that far surpassed the usual productions of Schikaneder's theater. But from the second act, it is the enthusiasm and the support of the public will increase every evening for nearly 100 performances ... The people of Vienna will adopt this Magic Flute and make it their own. Mozart will attend almost every performance at the show, mixing with the public (op.cit note 2).


In a letter to Constance he wrote on October 7: "I am just returning from the opera. It was as full as the other times. The duetto - Mann und Weib - and the glockenspiel of the first act were applauded as usual ... but what makes me most happy is the success which is confirmed by the silence! We can see very well how this opera is rising more and more, in the opinion ... ".


[1] See our previous previous News Letter

[2] See musical commentary by H. Halbeich: L’Avant-Scène Opéra N ° 196.

[3] Cf. Philippe Sollers, Mystérieux Mozart 2001

On October 14th he wrote again: "Dearest, excellent, little woman, last night ... at 6 o'clock I picked up Salieri and the Cavalieri and brought them to the opera ... You cannot believe how kind the two were ... they both said that this is an opera worthy of being performed ... in front of the greatest monarchs and that they would surely come to hear it very often ... He (Salieri) listened and watched with full attention, and from the opening to the last chorus, there is not a piece that he has not commented by a "bravo" or a "bello" ..


The Viennese public will not be the only one to vote for the Magic Flute. When Goethe's Counselor saw the opera in Frankfurt in 1793 she made this comment: "... All the workers, all the gardeners go there, and even the good people of Sachsenhausen whose children play the roles of lions and monkeys. in the opera. We have to open the theater from 4 p.m. and, with all this, each time there are several hundred people forced to leave without being able to find a seat .. Last week, the Magic Flute was performed for the twenty-fourth time, in front of a crowded hall  ...[4]



Indeed, nothing is lacking in the magic of this abundant booklet: we meet a dragon, a Queen of the Night, a bird-man who has remained close to childhood, a wicked and ridiculous jailer, thunderclaps and animals bewitched by the music of a magic flute. Behind this great inventiveness in the marvelous, we can easily guess several additional levels of reading. Are we in the pure entertainment or in a subtly coded work asks Catherine Duault?[5]

If the public sometimes welcomes the most serious passages of the work with a laugh, it is necessary to see in the purely spoken passage, without music of the second act (the dialogue between Sarastro and the Priests gathered to decide on the admission of Tamino to the testsof initiation), the most important passage from an ideological and philosophical point of view.


This passage which occurs after the walk of the priests is preceded by the “triple chord” played by the wind instruments and the basset horns (see below the symbol for 3). Sarastro speaks and his speech finally gives the public the necessary explanations: the Queen of the Night wants to impose obscurantism and superstition on the people, in short, the night of the spirit. This is why Pamina (her daughter) was taken from her and promised to Prince Tamino who must win the victory over darkness for the good of all mankind. His quality of Prince will he not prevent it? No! answers Sarastro because Tamino is more than a Prince, he is a man. This essential message, which Mozart was so anxious to be taken seriously, is punctuated three times by the majestic sounds of the "triple chord". Then Sarastro sends for Tamino and Papageno to introduce them to the initiatory tests and before raising the assembly, he sings his first aria "O Isis und Osiris".


[4] Comments from Jean and Brigitte Massin, Mozart 1958 - CFL.

[5] Cf. C. Duault - Opera on line - The magic flute, enchantment and richness of an initiatory tale. 

In his commentary H. Halbeich considers Papageno's pranks and grimaces to be a vital element of the opera, one which precisely makes the difficult message of the philosophy of lights accessible and appealing also to the widest possible popular audience. "Without this dimension of simple gaiety ..., the Magic Flute would only be a didactic, boring, pompous and pedantic piece promised to oblivion" (op.cit. note 2).


Goethe judged that: "it was necessary to know more to recognize the value of this libretto than to deny it ... It is enough that the crowd takes pleasure in the vision of the spectacle: to the initiated will not escape, at the same time, its high significance ... "


Let us come to the “initiates”.


There is a great deal of literature on the Masonic elements of the Magic Flute. In his musical commentary, (op.cit. note 2) H. Halbeich considers that “without falling into the exacerbated systematism of Jacques Chailley[6] who is going to flush out numerical symbols everywhere well beyond Mozart's intentions, it must be recognized that the freemasonic number 3 is present everywhere, in particular the starting and ending key (the E flat major and its 3 flats), ... the Ladies, the Young Boys, the Temples and the Doors which are at the number of 3 ”.


If we refer to the works on the symbolism of the number 3 published by the Masonic Library[7] we can read in particular that the number 3 is the number of the Apprentice. The Apprentice is 3 years old because he is only initiated into the Mysteries of the First 3 Numbers. The number 3 has, moreover, a very important and very present place in the ritual at the rank of Apprentice. For a Lodge to be just and perfect, the number 3 is still present, because 3 rule it. To support it, 3 Great Pillars are necessary which are called Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. Time and time again, we find the ternary notion associated with Masonic practices 3 steps, 3 knocks, Triple drums, Triple acclamation


But is numerology the prerogative of Freemasonry?


The editor of the work published by the Masonic Library (cf. note 7 op. cit.) rightly recalls that, if in the Masonic universe numbers hold an important place, it is, in the first place, by the fact that the science of the builders in the past was initially based on the knowledge of numbers, which was at the origin of every building construction ... This knowledge already existed in the most distant civilizations (Egyptian, Greek ...), which through it, have bequeathed some of their most essential knowledge The Golden Number, the Pythagorean systems, and Jewish Kabbalah are some of the most meaningful expressions, and all numerological approaches tend to classify and explain everything according to the number or numbers to which it relates.



In the Ritual of the Apprentice, the Mason is welcome with 3 blows of a mallet. To be introduced in the Lodge, 3 knocks are given (cf. note 7 op. Cit.). In his commentary H. Halbeich evokes the “triple chord” at the beginning of the Overture which subsequently comes up on several occasions as a call in the manner of a leitmotif (notably in the second act as indicated above before the aria of Sarastro). "We find - he says - in the booklet many Freemasonry triads: Virtue-Discretion-Benevolence or Wisdom-Strength-Patience, or even Intelligence-Labor-Arts. The orchestration particularly favors freemasonic wind instruments, especially clarinets, basset horns and solemn trombones ". Thus, for example, the prayer to Isis and Osiris takes on the appearance of an orchestrated chorale for a restricted Freemasonry formation entirely made up of bass instruments (a large part of which are wind instruments) blending perfectly with men's voices including Sarastro bass voice in the extreme low.


During initiation, the Neophyte completes 3 Journeys. The First one is that of the Trial of Air, the second one is that of the Trial of Water and the Third is that of the Trial of Fire (cf. note 7 op. cit.).

In Mozart's opera, the initiatory trials that the noble couple formed by Tamino and Pamina go through and the comic couple made up of Papageno and Papagena, are essentially inspired by Masonic rites (including the trial of Fire and Water). Everyone discovers in their own way and at their own level that one should not rely on appearances to gain access to truth in brotherhood and wisdom (cf. note 5 op.cit.).


Before concluding this letter, it should be noted, as Philippe A. Autexier mentions for the Mozart Dictionary, that he was in favor of gender equality and believed women to be worthy of initiation. In the opera's second finale, Pamina and Tamino go through the initiatory trials hand in hand.


For our readers who would like a vision and an interesting complementary analysis of the Magic Flute written by Jean van Win, Belgian writer and translator specializing in musicology and masonology, we refer to the Masonic blog accessible from the link mentioned below[8].


Musical testament, “The Magic Flute” can appear as a spiritual testament. The initiatory fairy tale delivers a philosophical message inspired by the ideals of Freemasonry. But beyond the Masonic symbolism, Mozart's ultimate lyrical masterpiece is composed to reach all audiences. “The Magic Flute” is not a work reserved only for initiates, as evidenced by this immense success that has never been denied. You don't need to be initiated to let yourself be drawn into this wonderful world where you discover the paths that lead from darkness to the light of wisdom and beauty. Beyond the Masonic symbols Mozart delivers a universal message of tolerance and fraternity (cf. note 5 op.cit.).


The day before his death, Mozart said to his wife again: “I would like to hear my Magic Flute one last time, and he hummed - Der Vogelfänger bin ich, ja - (Papageno’aria). The Kapellmeister Roser, who was at his bedside, rose, sat at the piano, and sang the lied; and Mozart showed visible joy[9].


[6] See Jacques Chailley, famous French musicologist published in 1968 an exegesis of the Magic Flute.

[7] See (in french)

[8] See published with the agreement of its author Jean van Win in support of a study by Robert Wangermée.

[9] See Souvenirs de Constance Mozart - 1857 reported by Jean and Brigitte Massin.

Biographical references:

Much of this letter is taken from H. Halbeich's musical commentary in L’Avant-Scène Opera No. 196

But also from

Jean and Brigitte Massin, Mozart 1958 – CFL.

Philippe Sollers, Mystérieux Mozart 2001 - Plon.

Philippe A. Autexier (music historian) for the Dictionnaire Mozart - Lattes - bringing together articles by several authors under the direction of H.C. Robbins Landon.

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