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The Scrivener: Artists Have To Eat

'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.'

Enthusiasist Brian Barratt brings fresh insights into Mozart's best loved and most puzzling opera.

This is the first in a six-part series on what many regard as the most enchanting work in the operatic canon.

Another Look At Mozart's 'The Magic Flute', Part 1

Not everyone likes opera. Perhaps that's because in the Italian type, gentle ladies and heroic gentlemen sing sweetly of their undying love and then the lady continues singing for rather a long time while she is dying or the gentleman meets an untimely end. In Wagner's lengthy German operas, everyone stands solemnly for half an hour, waiting for the music to finish. A gentleman then sings loudly while the orchestra does its level best to drown out his voice. But I jest, of course. I love opera. Now, let's have a more serious look at what might be the most popular opera of all.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was born in 1756 and died just before his thirty-fifth birthday. He wrote 21 operas. 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 after all that he was buried as a pauper, in a grave with several other poor people.

His last and best loved opera is also the most puzzling. It is 'Die Zauberflöte', '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. And there are countless extracts from it, as well as complete versions, on YouTube.

Why, then, did Mozart have such a sad and inauspicious burial? John Cargher, a prominent and sometimes controversial musicologist, offered 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' but also 'a deeply moving plea for tolerance based on the ideals of Freemasonry'. Which is it? And what is its relation to Freemasonry? We will explore some possible answers in this series.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2008, 2011

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To read more of Brian's worthwhile words please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do visit his Web site
www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

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