Mr. Mozart’s Opus
Freemasonry and Die Zauberflote
Professor Frances Fitch
College of DuPage
May 31, 2002
Thesis: The Magic Flute represents multiple aspects of Freemasonry, including both symbols as well as the values and ideology of the brotherhood. The opera also employs the symbols of Masonry to enact a dark political satire of those who opposed Freemasonry and the ideals it represented.
A. Opening Quote
B. Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) and Freemasonry
C. Symbolism Is Present
D. Mozart’s Beliefs vs. the Masons’
II. Plot Synopsis
A. Act I
B. Act II
III. Authorship of Libretto
A. Conflict (Who Wrote the Libretto)
B. Mozart & Schikaneder
C. Gieseke (Influence on Text)
IV. Emmanuel Schikaneder
B. His Theater
C. Meets Mozart
A. Opera Is Symbolic of Masons?
B. Modern-day Freemasonry
C. Opposed by Catholics
D. Reason for Emergence
E. “Theology” of Masons
F. Joseph II & Maria Theresa
VI. Mozart As Mason
B. Mozart Wants to Share Freemasonry
VII. Masonic Symbolism
A. In the Structure of the Music
B. Similar to Requiem Mass
C. The Four Elements
VIII. Characters As Symbolism
A. Sarastro / Ignaz von Born
B. Monostatos / Traitors
C. More About Sarastro’s Character
D. Queen of the Night / Empress Maria Theresa
E. Maria Theresa and Francis II
F. Tamino / Joseph II
A. Sarastro’s Brotherhood / Masonic Brotherhood
C. Masonry Suppressed
D. Symbolic of Journey Through Life / Mozart Approaching Death
In the finale of Die Zauberflote, the evil Queen of the Night and her cohorts break into the Temple of Wisdom, only to be defeated by a flood of brilliant light, which destroys their power and plunges them into darkness. The chorus sings the last verses: “Hail to the initiates! You have penetrated the night. Thanks to thee, Osiris, thanks, Isis, be thine! Strength has overcome, and crowns as reward Beauty and Wisdom with its eternal diadem!” (Mozart 133)
To the normal operagoer, Mozart’s opera Die Zauberflote (German for The Magic Flute) may seem to be little more than an elaborate fairy-tale; however, Mozart, along with librettist Emmanuel Schikaneder, wrote and set to music a work influenced by sources and ideas including mythology, fables and legends. Moreover, the opera represents one of the most well-known products of the Enlightenment—Freemasonry—in many ways. Though music and imagery symbolic of Freemasonry is present, most of the opera’s references to the Masons are indirect; the majority of allusions to the Masonic movement are characteristic of the ideals and values of the brotherhood, and these ideals are rather general and not readily identifiable as Masonic. The extent to which the opera hints at actual Masonic symbols is much less. As Wolfgang Hildesheimer, a painter and popular author, explains, “Sarastro [in the opera, the high priest of the brotherhood] does not sing about inner experience, but about morality; no one carries this out, however, since it cannot be transformed into stage action” (325).
There are those who would see the opera as Mozart’s own personal beliefs, while others would rather interpret it as the standards of the Masons. There should be no conflict between these two groups, however, since Mozart adopted the ethics and viewpoints of his brotherhood and accepted them as his own. The Magic Flute represents multiple aspects of Freemasonry, including both symbols as well as the values and ideology of the brotherhood. The opera also employs the symbols of Masonry to enact a dark political satire of those who opposed Freemasonry and the ideals it represented.
The opera's first act tells of a prince named Tamino who learns of the sorceress-like Queen of the Night, and her daughter, Pamina, who has been kidnapped by a man named Sarastro. The Queen gives the prince a companion named Papageno as well as a magical flute for protection, and they set out to find Pamina’s abductor and rescue her.
In Act II, Tamino is told that he has been tricked; the Queen is a spiteful, malicious character, and the allegedly evil Sarastro is actually the high priest of a secret brotherhood. He explains his reason for taking Pamina: Doing so was the only way to prevent her from being poisoned by the Queen’s evil influence.
Tamino and Pamina meet for the first time, and when the high priest tells Tamino that Pamina is destined to be his wife, he urges the two of them to undergo a series of trials that, if Tamino and Pamina overcome, will bring the the greater happiness of true wisdom. Tamino and Pamina agree to attempt the tests to prove themselves worthy of joining Sarastro and his brotherhood, rather than exact revenge on the priest, as the Queen had earlier instructed.
Around the same time that Tamino and Pamina are completing the initiation rites, the Queen and her cohorts make an attempt to overtake Sarastro’s temple, but their appearance coincides with a flood of blazing light, crushing their power and sending them plummeting into eternal darkness. Sarastro appears in front of the Temple of Wisdom with the others to bless the initiates and proclaim the victory of light over darkness.
One of the biggest conflicts throughout The Magic Flute’s history has been who was the real author of the libretto. The most widely accepted of the theories is that Schikaneder wrote the text of the libretto, but that Mozart, in addition to composing the music, had some say in what the opera’s story included. Karl Ludwig Gieseke, a playwright and librettist, is the cause of the debate. British musicologist Charles Osborne states that Gieseke—who lived during the same time as Mozart and Schikaneder—claimed that he was the author. Suspiciously, he chose not to do so until only a few years after the death of Schikaneder, and Mozart had died long since then (322). Peter Branscombe, professor of Austrian studies at the University of St. Andrews, confirms that a copy of the first edition of the libretto has been discovered with Gieseke’s signature on it. By numerous accounts, however, he was the stage manager for The Magic Flute’s first performance, and also played a minor character role, so Gieseke could have easily obtained a copy of the script (92).
Ironically, even though the fact remains that Gieseke is hardly ever accepted as the opera’s librettist, most sources do credit him with having made some contribution to the text. William Mann, renowned music critic of London’s The Times since 1960, says that Gieseke provided Schikaneder with a book of oriental fairy-tales called Dschinnistan, from which certain story elements were incorporated into the opera. A fellow Freemason in Mozart and Schikaneder’s lodge also gave them a copy of a French novel titled Sethos, which was incorporated into the script, and Gieseke is considered the most likely one to have supplied the two with said book (598-99). Mann gives his interpretation of the extent of Gieseke’s influence: “He may have given helpful advice to Schikaneder, perhaps altered a word or two, and much later exaggerated his assistance into sole authorship” (599). In other words, Karl Gieseke may have had a role in the libretto’s writing, but only indirectly at most.
According to Peter Branscombe, Schikaneder met Mozart while the former was playing in Salzburg in the fall of 1780. Born September 1, 1751, Schikaneder was a known actor, singer, composer, theater manager, director and author of over a hundred plays and librettos (145-6). The owner of the Wieden Theatre in Vienna, Schikaneder met with financial success during some years, and in other years was near bankruptcy. Peter Foil, who wrote the commentary and text for a recent publication of The Magic Flute’s libretto, says that the performances that made Schikaneder the most money were what he called “magic operas,” with whimsical plots, special effects and extravagant scenery, all combined with slapstick comedy and memorable songs (Mozart 18-19).
Schikaneder is reported to have pleaded with Mozart to help him produce another such opera when he (Schikaneder) was in financial trouble, thereby beginning the writing and composing of music for The Magic Flute. By most accounts, Mozart too was having problems finding a steady source of income. He had held an official post as a composer while Vienna was under the reign of Joseph II, but when Leopold II succeeded Joseph upon his death, Mozart was given a non-paid position (Mann 593). As such, given both Schikaneder and Mozart’s monetary dilemmas, Mozart saw the offer to write a new opera as potentially beneficial to both him and his friend.
While there are numerous concepts that are symbolically represented throughout the course of the opera, Freemasonry seems to be one of the most prominent. Many critics argue that Freemasonry is just one way to interpret the opera. William Stafford, a lecturer on philosophy and history, holds that it is impossible to accurately compare Mozart’s real life membership in a Masonic lodge to the content of his opera (201). It is obvious that other allegories exist within certain aspects of the opera, but many parts have decidedly Masonic overtones, which reflect Mozart and his dedication to the brotherhood.
Founded in England around 1717, modern-day Freemasonry quickly spread throughout the rest of Europe. “Although the first official record of a Masonic lodge in Vienna dates from 1742,” explains author and occasional director of Mozart’s operas Nicholas Till, “there is some evidence to suggest that freemasonry reached Vienna in the 1730s” (120). It had met with opposition as early as 1735, mainly by Catholics. As Edward J. Dent, former professor of music at Cambridge, puts it, “It was only natural that a secret society [that] taught ethical doctrines on the basis of pagan symbolism and admitted all creeds to equality should incur the hostility of the Catholic Church” (231). One of the reasons that Freemasonry came about is because of the Reformation, which began in 1517. It challenged the notion that the Roman Catholic Church was the only true path to Christianity and God. The idea had previously been that the Roman Catholic Church was the only genuine source of religious authority. As one Web site’s article “Masonic Philosophy” explains, Freemasonry was created not for one specific religion, nor as a substitute for religion; rather, it simply expects men to continue to follow their own religious beliefs. Freemasonry can be described as a society of men who are concerned with spiritual and moral standards. Basically, the only prerequisite to be a member is a belief in a Supreme Being.
One of the “products” of the period known as the Enlightenment was the revival of the Freemasons. In Vienna, the revival began taking place around 1780. The emperor Joseph II was not a Mason himself but generally had no objection to the movement. Empress Maria Theresa, however, was a resolute Catholic who fervently opposed the Masons.
Mozart as Mason
Mozart was initiated as a Freemason on December 14, 1784, at the lodge ‘Zur Wohltatigkeit,’ which means ‘Benevolence’ (Stafford 191). Biographer Maynard Solomon claims that Baron Otto von Gemmingen-Hornberg, an acquaintance Mozart met in Mannehim in 1779, may have “recruited” Mozart to the lodge (Solomon 326). The Magic Flute premiered September 30, 1791. Mozart was aware, the article says, that the outlawing of Masonry would take place in the not-so-distant future. Mozart saw the opera as his last opportunity to spread the influence of Freemasonry and share the “esoteric knowledge” he had gained through the journey of the Enlightenment. He felt that it was his duty to spread the influence of Freemasonry and to try and convince others that to follow Freemasonry was to learn truth and become accepting of humanistic ideals and values (“Mozart’s Magic Flute” par. 16).
Much of the symbolism representing Masonry can be found in the structure of the opera’s music itself. The number three, which is Masonically significant, appears in many parts of the musical composition, such as in the repetition of musical keys written with three flats. There are other instances of things occurring in triplets in the opera, such as the three Genii, the three Ladies and the three temples of Wisdom, Reason and Nature. Additionally is the occasional use of three chords put together rhythmically (“Mozart’s Magic Flute” par. 18). One reason why the number three is significant is that in some lodges—including Mozart’s—there were three Degrees that could be earned, the highest being Master Mason. Some sects of the Masons also found significance in God as the Trinity.
Like Mozart’s Requiem Mass, the opera’s musical score occasionally employs a basset horn, which, according to Dent, is significant to Masons. Dent adds that one of the arias sung by Tamino and Pamina contains a segment of the Requiem Mass. This portion is called the Tuba Mirium (253-4). This piece is considered to be representative of the acceptance of death that is characteristic of Masons. Mozart is also said to have feared death prior to his joining the Masonic order.
According to I. M. Oderberg, who wrote an article titled “The Magic Flute,” some of the characters are symbolic of the Sun and Moon, in addition to the four Elements (Earth, Air, Wind and Fire), all of which are important to Masons and considered central images. Near the end of the opera, Tamino and Pamina complete the last task of initiation together, enduring trials by fire and water (2). In addition, Sarastro’s temple is sometimes referred to as the Temple of the Sun. In contrast, the Queen of the Night is closely associated with the moon, considering that her element is that of the darkness.
Charles Osborne says that a man named Baron Ignaz von Born, who was Grand Secretary of the Viennese lodge Loge zur Wahren (‘Lodge of True Unity’), is often credited as being the basis of the character Sarastro, the compassionate High Priest of Isis (322). There also exists the character of Monostatos, a Moor who is in the brotherhood but has impure motives. William Mann believes that he signifies traitors and defectors of Masonic lodges in Vienna, who accused others in the brotherhood of being anti-government radicals (616).
Branscombe points out a couple of unusual, seemingly questionable aspects of the high priest Sarastro and the realm he governs: The priest owns slaves, and women are apparently seen as generally unworthy of being initiated into the Enlightenment. However, Branscombe explains the presence of slavery by stating that, in Vienna in recent years, forced labor had been a legally acceptable form of punishment. Sarastro and his brotherhood's general attitude toward women was also a reflection of the times: Women were considered unworthy to take part in Masonry because they were thought to be “indiscreet” (217).
Many sources believe that the character of the Queen of the Night was created in the image of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, considered by many to be the greatest enemy of the Freemasons. Richard Gutman, a critically acclaimed author and teacher, describes the Empress as “perhaps … [the] most formidable royal hunter of Masons” (20). And Foil explains that the Empress suppressed the order in 1764, issuing an Imperial Decree that outlawed Freemasonry (Mozart 23). In the opera, the Queen intends to exact revenge on Sarastro, so she gives Pamina a dagger and tells her to murder him. Just as the Queen’s thirst for vengeance rivaled Sarastro’s practice of forgiveness, Maria Theresa was opposed to many of the principles of Enlightenment, including freedom of religion and equality of all men.
The Queen is also sometimes referred to (within the course of the opera) as the “Starblazing Queen,” connecting her with the central Masonic theme of the star. Arthur Waite, who wrote an exhaustive encyclopedia on Freemasonry, says that in Masonic symbolism, the Blazing Star was used as an emblem often considered to be representative of “Nature regarded as a volatile spirit” (109). It becomes obvious throughout the course of the story that the Queen herself is an unpredictable, impulsive force to be reckoned with, which explains the subtle reference to another Masonic symbol.
Further evidence exists to support the personification of Maria Theresa as the Queen of the Night. According to the story, the Queen once had a husband who upheld Sarastro as right and good, though she despised him (her husband). This bears a resemblance to the occasionally heard notion that Maria Theresa’s husband, Emperor Francis II, would secretly leave the palace to attend Masonic meetings (“Brother Mozart” par. 3).
The character of Tamino is said to correspond with Joseph II, who became joint ruler along with his mother Maria Theresa when Emperor Francis II died in 1765. Foil says that while Joseph was not a Freemason himself, he supported physical, political and intellectual liberation, including support for the Enlightenment and the Freemason movement. Around 1781, he reversed his mother’s policy forbidding Masonic activity, though some had actually ignored her decree anyway (Mozart 22-23). In late 1785, however, Joseph was pressured by members of the clergy of the Catholic church to exert more control over Masonic lodges, so the existing eight lodges were merged into three (Bissey 2).
At one point in the opera, after Pamina has been ordered by her mother to get even with Sarastro, the priest comes in and tells Pamina that he and his followers kidnapped her, but that they did so with good and pure intentions. He states that he will not sink to the Queen’s level by harming or killing her. He professes:
In these sacred halls, we know no revenge, and when a
man has fallen,
love comes to his aid. Then a friend’s hand guides him satisfied, happy,
to a better land. Within these sacred walls, where mankind loves mankind,
there lurks no betrayer, for we forgive our enemies. Who is not pleased
by csuch teaching is not worthy to be called man. (Mozart 107)
The doctrine of Sarastro’s brotherhood, which essentially makes the same statement of beliefs as Freemasonry does, is representative of what Mozart (and perhaps Schikaneder) believed, particularly after becoming Brothers in real life. According to Bissey, the craft was formally suppressed in 1795, not to be seen in Austria again until 1918 (2). It is hard to determine how much influence Mozart’s work had on people when it came to Masonry, but more important is how the composer used his gift of music to extol the virtues of a society that professed belief in an honorable way of life, while at the same time presenting a beautifully written work. Peter Branscombe describes it as a “late flowering of the spirit of the Enlightenment” (35). Branscombe acknowledges that while there are many Masonic symbols and values throughout Die Zauberflote, there are also other metaphors that are not Masonic. He says that the prominent symbolism is that of life and death, and our journey through it (140). Perhaps the reason that the opera is so moving, he theorizes, is that the ending is “the victory of light in a dark world” (141), a triumph Mozart most wanted in his own life. Mozart had little time remaining to live, and Die Zauberflote was his own vision of life as it was meant to be—full of humor, love and compassion. "The Magic Flute" is Mozart’s magnum opus.
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