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  • The Magic Flute and Freemasonry
  • Jay MacPherson

Schikaneder's Zauberflöte (Magic Flute) libretto1 is now widely believed by stage-directors and the reading public to have been planned as a lightly disguised defence or glorification of freemasonry, suffering in Vienna, as elsewhere, under the clouds of suspicion raised by the French Revolution. However, that interpretation starts only in the eighteen fifties and sixties with the work of Leopold von Sonnleithner, Georg Daumer, and most influentially Mozart's first substantial biographer, Otto Jahn. The Masonic reading was recast a century later, in differing versions, by Jacques Chailley and Katharine Thomson,2 and is still in some form generally accepted, for example by Peter Branscombe in his very able 1991 study, and by his collaborator Erik Smith, who calls the Flute 'a musical depiction of the ideas of the Freemasons' (Branscombe 112).

On the evening of Saturday, 8 October 1791, having returned from the theatre where the Flute was playing, Mozart wrote to his wife Constanze, staying for her health at a nearby spa. Some names were later edited out for publication, but he mentions a group who

zeugten ü ber alles recht sehr ihren beifall . . . Unglü ckseligerweise war ich eben drinnen als der 2:te Akt anfieng, folglich bey der feyerlichen Scene. (They applauded everything most enthusiastically . . . By bad luck I was in their box when the second act began, so at the solemn scene.)

Among them was someone Mozart describes as 'Er, der allwissende' (Mr Know-It-All):

- er belachte alles; anfangs hatte ich gedult genug ihn auf einigen Reden aufmerksam machen zu wollen, allein - er belachte alles; - da wards mir nun zu viel - ich hiess ihn Papageno, und gieng fort - ich glaube aber nicht dass es [End Page 1072] der dalk verstanden hat. (- he laughed at everything; at first I had the patience to point out some speeches, but - he laughed at everything; - that got too much for me - I called him Papageno and left - I don't think the dolt got the point.)

(Mozart 4: 160)

If the 'dolt' was a member of one of the lodges, he should have responded to those speeches of Sarastro, who is announcing Tamino's quest to his colleagues and asking them to favour it: they seem to echo, more closely than anything else in the text, Masonic ritual and rhetoric. Otherwise it is presumably the noble morality and humane ethos that he failed to appreciate. But unfortunately we cannot now identify him.

Mozart, the opera's composer, is well known to have been a Mason from December 1784 to his death in December 1791, nine weeks after the opening. His lodge, Zur Wohltätigkeit (Beneficence), and its successor Zur (neu-)gekrönte Hoffnung ([New-]Crowned Hope), which he joined after the reorganization of Austrian freemasonry imposed by Kaiser Joseph in December 1785, left only sparse records, but we know that he sometimes visited Zur wahren Eintracht (True Concord), Vienna's most progressive and intellectually distinguished lodge (also better documented), whose space, and sometimes events, Beneficence shared. For various Masonic occasions Mozart composed song or cantata settings or orchestral pieces, besides taking part in musical events at other lodges.

By contrast the Flute's author and producer, Emanuel Schikaneder, after joining a lodge in Regensburg in October 1788 was shortly suspended for six months, probably because of his imprudent love affairs; the letter telling him this mentions that his visits have been pleasant but few. Before the six months was up, he moved permanently to Vienna, though remaining on the lodge's annual lists until at least 1791 (Beyer 215-16). While he seems never to have joined a lodge in Vienna, he would have been entitled to attend any of them as a 'visiting brother,' and there is evidence that he sometimes visited Mozart's lodge in company with Mozart.3

In Prague in September 1791 for the opening of La Clemenza di Tito, Mozart attended a meeting of the lodge Wahrheit und Einigkeit (Truth and Unity), where he was greeted with 'Die Maurerfreude' [End Page 1073] (Masons' Joy), his 1785 cantata in honour of Ignaz von Born, who now had just died: renowned as a mineralogist and as the...


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