« Swallows And Amazons For Ever! | Main | The One And Only Punxsutawney Phil »

The Scrivener: Artists Have To Eat

Brian Barratt begins a five-part series of articles on one of the greatest operas ever written – Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

Brian derives great joy from listening to the work - and his words will encourage you to enjoy the magic in some of the greatest music ever written.

Please do visit Brian's intriguing and entertaining Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas

Notes on Mozart's 'The Magic Flute', Part 1

Strange things, operas. In the Italian type, ladies and gentlemen sing sweetly of undying love, and then the lady continues singing loudly for a long time while she is dying. In Wagner's lengthy German operas, everyone stands solemnly for half an hour, waiting for the music to finish. A gentleman then sings for the next half hour while the orchestra does its level best to drown out his voice.

In an older style, Mozart wrote 21 operas. Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, died in 1791, just before his thirty-fifth birthday. Starting at the age of five, he wrote approximately 600 to 700 works, depending on which list you use. That averages one piece, be it a short keyboard composition or a full length opera, every fortnight. And he was buried as a pauper, in a grave with several other poor people.

The last and best loved opera is also the most puzzling. It is Die Zauberflõte, 'The Magic Flute'. He composed the glorious music for a libretto written by his friend Emanuel Schikaneder. It was an immediate success at its first performance just a couple of months before Mozart died. If you browse through catalogues, you can see that it is still very popular more than 200 years later, with many versions available in CD and DVD formats.

Why, then, did Mozart have such a sad and inauspicious burial? John Cargher, a prominent and sometimes controversial musicologist, offers an answer to that question:

It is regrettable but true — artists have to eat, and whether they find a lasting place in history depends on whether they happen to be geniuses or not. The Magic Flute would not have been written had Mozart not needed money desperately.

While he was writing the music for The Magic Flute, Mozart was also composing a requiem mass and another opera, La clemenza di Tito. Desperate is the word — he needed the money, but died in poverty.

Meanwhile, the story by Emmanuel Schikaneder has been called both 'a farrago of nonsense' and 'a deeply moving plea for tolerance based on the ideals of Freemasonry'. Which is it? We will explore possible answers in the next article in this series.

Encyclopædia Britannica 2007.
— Microsoft Standard Encarta Encyclopædia 2005.
Blanks, Harvey, The Golden Road, Rigby Limited, Adelaide 1968.
Cargher, John, Music for Pleasure, Ure Smith, Sydney 1970.
Jones, Barry, Dictionary of World Biography, 3rd ed., Information Australia, Melbourne 1998.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2008


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.