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The Scrivener: Mozart's Magic Flute - Part 4

There is much more to Mozart’s marvelous opera The Magic Flute than meets the uninformed ear, as Brian Barratt reveals in the fourth of a series of five perceptive articles about this masterwork.

Do please visit Brian’s exhilarating Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

Serious business

Notes on Mozart's 'The Magic Flute', Part 4

Although Mozart wrote several works for use in Masonic lodges, Die Zauberflöte is not a 'Masonic opera'. It combines pantomime and serious Masonic business, perhaps, in one engaging piece of entertainment.

In his music, Mozart alludes to aspects of lodge ritual, just as Emmanuel Schikaneder alludes to it in the libretto. There are also possible references to the contemporary dispute between the Roman Catholic Church and the growing Masonic movement.

The number three is used in several ways. A distinctive musical bar, repeated three times, is used on three occasions. Among the characters there are groups of three ladies and three boys.

Sets of three principles are represented, e.g., Nature, Reason, Wisdom and Brotherhood, Tolerance, Silence. The three boys warn Tamino, the hero, to be 'standhaft, duldsam, und verschwiegen', resolute, patient, and discreetly silent. These find an echo in the charge after initiation in current ritual as Secrecy, Fidelity and Obedience.

It has been pointed out that although the number three is important to Freemasons, it is equally significant in other groups and belief systems. However, these groups of principles and virtues, repeated when the priests assemble, are particularly relevant to Masonic concepts.

From a Masonic point of view, the symbolism of light and dark is also important. The hero Tamino asks 'When will this darkness be cast aside?' to be told, 'When the hand of friendship has led you into the shrine'. Failure is still possible, implied by the ominous answer, 'Soon, or never!' to his further question, 'When will I see the light?' Although their roles are initially somewhat confused, we see in the end that Sarastro, the high priest, represents the light which overcomes the darkness of the Queen of the Night.

Much is made of the three Ordeals of silence, water and fire through which Tamino must pass before he is initiated. Indeed, he is warned that he could die in the process. The nervous and talkative bird-catcher, Pagageno, is given some leeway when he undergoes similar trials. Both are rewarded — they are united with the ladies they so much desire, Pamino and Papagena. This might be looked upon as symbolic of a 'union of opposites' as seen, for instance, in the myth of Isis and Osiris.

There is one black-skinned character in the opera, Monostatos. He is Sarastro's Captain of the Guard, usually portrayed as an evil Moor. Along with the Queen of the Night, he is finally vanquished by Sarastro. From a Masonic point of view, it could be that he represents the black of the black and white Mosaic pavement on the floor of a Masonic lodge. The white counterpart would be Tamino.

Light and darkness, day and night, sun and moon, and simply white and black, can all be viewed as pairs of opposites which have their own special unifying relationships. They are all used in The Magic Flute and they all appear in one way of another in Freemasonry. Exactly how much we read into the opera depends on where we are standing.

In the next article of this series, we will have a look at two very different stage versions of the opera.

Emulation Lodge, The Perfect Ceremonies of Craft Masonry, A.Lewis (Masonic Publishers) Ltd, London 1955.
Gazzo, B., Massoneria: Simboli e Archtipi nel Flauto Magico di W.A.Mozart., PS Review of Freemasonry.
Mann, W., Die Zauberflõte, Klemperer, et al. EMI Classics, CDS 5 55173 2, EMI, London 1964.
Wilmhurst, W.L., The Meaning of Masonry, 11th ed., John M. Watkins, London 1959.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2008


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