Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mozart's Magical Mystery Tour de Force: Unraveling the Threads of Die Zauberflöte

This essay was written for the Augst 23, 2014  Connecticut Lyric Opera performance of Die Zauberflöte  (The Magic Flute)  by Wolfgang  Amade' Mozart.

"The Magic Flute is like a mirror: anyone who looks into it sees himself, and he will find in it whatever he is looking for."                     
                                  Jâanos Leibner, Mozart on the Stage
Set design for Act I Scene VI from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte
Konigen der nacht (Queen of Night)
Aquatint by Carl Friedrich Thiele (1827)
after a print by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1816)

"...It has pleased the eternal architect of
 the world to tear one of our most beloved, meritorious  members
from our brotherly chain. Who did not know him? 
 Who did not esteem him? Our worthy brother Mozart...."

So  spoke the Worshipful Master of the Masonic  Lodge Zur Neugrekronten Hoffnung ("New Crowned Hope") eulogizing  fellow mason, Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus ("Amadeus") Mozart, after his untimely death on December 5, 1791, a  month  before his thirty-sixth birthday.  Mozart was western civilization's most illustrious prodigy, its iconic genius,  the master composer of symphony,  concerto form, chamber music and opera at the highest levels. Mozart was the Shakespeare and Michelangelo of his Art, mythologized for over two centuries as the apotheosis of Music, writing harmonies at once sublime and ineffable,  who regrettably died before completing his myriad conceptions. 

The precise cause of Mozart's death remains unknown, although the preponderance of  the evidence suggests chronic conditions (extradural hematoma, renal disease and anemia, exacerbated by bloodletting, of all things), and an acute medical crisis, recently ascribed to trichinosis poisoning from his having eaten some under-cooked pork cutlets three weeks prior to his abrupt demise. 1

Though ill and confined to bed,  Mozart continued to  work on finishing a commissioned work, a Requiem Mass, which he was convinced he was composing for himself.  His assistant, Franz Xaver Sussmayr, had been summoned to take dictation from Mozart on how the Requiem should be completed. On that last day, Mozart  asked his sister-in-law Sophie Weber Haibl to remove his pet bird to another room, because he could not bear to continue hearing what the bird kept whistling: Papageno's tune from Die Zauberflöte. Mozart was said to have uttered to his assembled friends and family, "How I wish I could hear my beloved  Zauberflöte one more time."

Wolfgang Mozart
The unfinished 1782 portrait
by brother-in law Joseph Lange
His "beloved Zauberflöte" indeed. Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute)  still remains one of the most beloved of operas. It stands apart, as an iconic musical composition, as a paean to  fidelity and love, as  Masonic allegory, and as a magical and mystical drama. Even within the canon of Mozart's twenty-three other completed operatic works, where it is usually listed as a Singspiel (along  with its forebears Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) and Zaide - light operas sung in German and with spoken dialogue and no sung recitative), and although it was entitled a Grosse Oper (Grand Opera)  in the  program book at its premiere on September 30, 1791, the last  of Mozart's operas to reach the stage, Die Zauberflöte remains sui generis,   a singular sensation.  Why should that be?

Before demystifying this wondrous opera, Dear Reader, a "Spoiler Alert":  Do not continue reading this essay if you wish to keep thinking of Die Zauberflöte as the straightforward story of a prince and a princess and their undying love and devotion to each other, in the face of the usual, various and sundry forces of darkness and operatic mortal dangers, who come through these travails unscathed.  However, if you, like Tamino,  want to know and understand the deep and enduring truths  embedded within Die Zauberflöte, the multi-layered aspects that make this  work of art interpretable on so many different yet interconnected levels, then you, Dear Reader, are compelled to take the journey and read on.

The bird-catcher Papageno
from an 1816 Berlin production
of Die Zauberflote
 At the most literal plane of analysis, the exoteric level, Die Zauberflöte is nothing more than another delightful opera by a great composer, this particular one quite approachable by both children and adults, a charming musical fairy tale that is replete with hummable tunes, a certifiable hero and  heroine, comical characters, a story line that is easy to follow, with  exciting moments and a happy ending, in which truth, morality, personal integrity, love and fidelity  win out. Mozart's brilliant inventiveness brought many different operatic styles to bear in Zauberflöte - soaring arias, Singspiel,  the solemnity of opera seria,  dramatic oratory, and even the slapstick of opera buffa.

The Magic Flute
Marc Chagall 1967
for the Metropolitan Opera
Indeed, Zauberflöte is blessed with an embarrassment of musical riches. Tamino's great Act I aria, Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön, when he first espies the locket-portrait of Pamina, and Pamina's own Act II aria, Ach ich fuhl's, a song of yearning (for Tamino, obviously - after all this is an opera) are worthy of inclusion in  the operatic Pantheon, along with Mozart's indelible tenor and soprano arias from Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro and Cosi' fan tutte.  

Sarastro is given two great solos, O Isis und Osiris, and  In diesen heil'gen Hallen,  befitting his stature as the great sorcerer-priest (and more) that he is. Of course,  vocal pyrotechnics are to be expected from the Konigin der Nacht (Queen of Night), who demonstrates her Janus-faced personality with the  Act I stunner, O Zittre Nicht, much as a concerned mother would sing to her beloved daughter; and then morphs into the harpy that she really is, with the demonic Act II  showstopper,  Der Holle Rach, with even more of those stratospheric F6's !

Who can forget the birdcatcher, Papageno?  His charming Act I ditty, Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja, could be a Sesame Street theme song,  and  his Act II song of longing and despair  in searching for his Papagena, and then joy when they find each other, are tunes that grade-schoolers encounter and internalize in their first experiences with  the operatic art form.  

The opera lover can take these alternatingly splendid, majestic, chilling and ethereal arias, and the celestial music that accompanies them, purely at face value and have a very pleasurable, in fact wonderfully delightful, three hours in the opera house, or at home, enjoying, for example,  the wonderful 2003 DVD from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Colin Davis music director.
Set design for Konigen der nacht (Queen of Night)
Aquatint by Simon Quaglio, Munich 1818

However, it is quickly evident that there are other levels of meaning in Die Zauberflöte, allusions that exist on a deeper and more introspective plane, in what would be termed the mesoteric level of interpretation. Perhaps none are more foundational than the Masonic symbols that serve as  leitmotifs and recurrent threads throughout the opera.

Masonic symbols abound in the frontispiece of
 the opening night libretto of Die Zauberflöte
September 30, 1791
Engraving by Freemason Ignaz Alberti  
The decade between 1780 and 1790 opened a brief  but crucial window in the history of Freemasonry within the context of the Age of Enlightenment.  Freemasonry, which had its roots in the Medieval period but was not codified until the early 1700s, was,  in the words of historian A.F. Robbins, "an organized system of morality.... veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbol."  

Both Freemasonry and the Enlightenment philosophy shared similar notions of rational thought and scientific inquiry. Further, because things are often not exactly as they might first appear, the seeker of answers had to search deeply and thoroughly for the ultimate truth.

The Catholic Church had been diametrically opposed to Freemasonry, having long banned the Brotherhood, deeming it too dangerous  a competitive secular force to its religious tenets. In contradistinction,  Freemasonry accepted members of all races and creeds without exception, and still does.  Despite the Church's extreme position, which was made crystal clear to the populace through a series of papal bulls, it was difficult for each city-state to police  these edicts.  In Vienna in particular, then part of the Habsburg empire, the Empress Maria Theresa supported the ban (despite the fact that her husband, Francis  I, was both Holy Roman Emperor AND a Masonic Lodge Master!).  However, it was their elder son and successor, Joseph II, who came to the throne in 1780, who was the more " enlightened" ruler and who  relaxed this proscription, becoming a Freemason himself. The window would soon close again in the late 1780s, with the Church reasserting its ban on the Lodges and Leopold II (Joseph II's feckless younger brother and successor), who began to feel threatened by the Enlightenment ideas of Freemasonry, agreeing to enforce the shut down.

Mozart at a Masonic  Initiation  at  "New Crowned Hope"
by Ignaz Unterberger (1789)
This contested painting shows Mozart,
presumed to be on extreme right, next to Schikaneder.
Nikolas Esterhazy, Prince of Hungary and Haydn's patron
is Master of both Lodge and Ceremonies,
is said to be in the center,speaking to the Initiate.
It was in that momentarily tolerant atmosphere that Mozart, a devout Catholic,  also decided to become a Freemason,  joining several of his closest friends in the Vienna lodge Zur Wohltätigkeit ("Beneficence") in December, 1784. Mozart's choice of Lodge was not random; "Beneficence" was the Lodge which served as a "trial balloon" for Viennese Catholics who wanted to embrace Freemasonry. 

Mozart's father, Leopold, while visiting his son in Vienna in 1785, also joined "Beneficence," which soon thereafter  was consolidated into a new and larger facility, the aforementioned "New Crowned Hope," which Franz Joseph Haydn joined as well.   Mozart's colleagues, the financier Michael Puchberg and the clarinetist Anton Stadler, were fellow Lodge brothers as well (and from both of whom Mozart would episodically borrow money). The theatrical producer, writer, actor and machinist  Johann Joseph Schikeneder (whom posterity knows as Emanuel Schikaneder) was also a Mason, albeit a member of  a different lodge, just outside of Vienna. Mozart had previously met Schikaneder in 1780, and after the 1782 premiere of Die Entführung, his troupe  toured  this delightful Mozart opera around German-speaking Europe for almost a decade. Schikaneder  was to be very much a part of Mozart's life at the end: he was the catalyst for Zauberflöte,  its presumed librettist, its first Papageno, and after Mozart's death,  tried (unsuccessfully) along with the poet Goethe, to write its sequel.

Schikaneder, ever the hyper-energetic, competitive and financially astute impresario, demanded hit after hit for his new music art-house the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden. In May of 1791, he proposed to Mozart that his libretto, Die Zauberflöte, be set to music.   

Captivated by the theme, its esoteric allusions, the possibility of Masonic tangents, the prospect of using advanced machinery in the opera (a hot-air balloon!), unhindered by other projects, Mozart immediately set to work. By  June 11, a space of just six weeks, he had already completed most of the opera, apart from the March of the Priests at the beginning of Act II and the Overture itself, which, in typical fashion, he did not finish until September 28, working right up to the deadline, two days before its premiere.

Given Zauberflöte's Masonic connections, the work abounds in symbolism and numerology.  As a "prime" example, so to speak,  the number three, essential in Freemasonry as one of the essential rhythms in the  Masonic ritual, dominates the composition of Zauberflöte. The key of the opera's overture and many arias in the work are in Eb major, the third chord in the diatonic scale, and a key with three flats.

The opening measures of the overture, richly heralded by woodwinds,  announce a theme of three harmonized chords, beginning with the tonic Eb triad, mirroring the Masonic initiate knocking three times on the Masonic lodge door to request entry, as shown:

The numerology of "three" appears frequently appears in Zauberflöte. Three Ladies pop up in the opera from time to time, giving advice, succor and magical instruments to the protagonists, as  do the Three Boys (called  Three "Genii," "Spirits," or "Child-Spirits" in later productions). The opera contains three pairs of principals (Tamino/Pamina, Papageno/Papagena, Konigen der nacht/Sarastro), there are three temples in Sarastro's fortress (Reason, Wisdom and Nature), and three trials which Tamino and Pamina must undergo in their initiation into self-awareness and knowledge (trials of earth, water and fire - air is implied).

An intriguing and alternative analysis suggets that the use of "three" in Zauberflöte alludes not to Masonic imagery at all, but rather to aspects of the Trinity of Christianity. Given Mozart's fervent Catholic religiosity, evident in his letters to his father and sister after his mother's passing and in his numerous and intensely devotional Masses, that is certainly plausible; Christian metaphors could certainly inhabit this outwardly "pagan" opera. Mozart's ecumenical ideas would readily have allowed him (and one presumes, Schikaneder) to intertwine in music and drama those positive attributes of both creeds.  However, the majority opinion continues to favor the Masonic mesoteric interpretation.

Sarastro's Garden, with the Sphinx and Egyptian motif
from Schinkel's  design for an 1816  production of Zauberflöte
Masonic ritual contains antecedents in Egyptian mythology, with its emphasis on the commingled journeys of the life-spark (ka) and the soul/spirit (ba), and in another middle eastern philosophy, Zoroastrianism, which embraces the concept of the duality of (and therefore, the necessary existence of both) good and evil, made manifest in the opera by the juxtaposition of the forces of light and darkness. 

Mozart, with his knowledge of Masonic lore and Zoroastrian concepts,  has the high priest Sarastro (whose name is in fact a variant of Zoroaster) intone the pre-dynastic Egyptian creation gods Isis and Osiris in the first of his two magnificent arias in Zauberflöte,  while evincing Zoroastrian duality with night-time stars mechanistically emblazoned behind Astrofiammante, the Queen (of Night), in stark contrast to the Sun-Disk that accompanies Sarastro.

Could there be a Master Architect of the Heavens?
Note the "mechanistic" groupings of stars
(in threes,  hmmmm)  that shine behind the
                   Starflammende Konigen (Star-flaming Queen)                     
The Sun-Disk,
behind Sarastro, the priests
and the protagonists.
Is the Sun-Disk a Zoroastrian concept?


    Mozart and Schikaneder were fascinated by  Eastern philosophy and Orientalism, which were all the rage in late eighteenth century Europe. Mozart had already been "bitten by the bug",  having penned in 1779 an unfinished dramatic work based in Egypt, Thamos, König in Ägypten. He had begun an opera buffa entitled L'oca del Cairo (The Goose of Cairo) in 1782, and had already composed two Singspiele with middle Eastern touches, namely Zaide in 1779 with its own Egyptian setting and underpinnings, and Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1781-82) with those wondrous Turkish accents: cymbals!  Janissary music!  a Pasha!.

Wenzel Mueller's opera, Die Zauberzither (The Magic Zither, which for some inexplicable reason was also known  as Kaspar, the Bassoonist) served as an additional source for many of the oriental touches in Zauberflöte.  At the same time,  the play Sethos, based on Jean Terrason's eponymous 1731 novel and which was also set in Egypt and filled with both Masonic and Egyptian mythological references, was making the rounds in Vienna. 

Mozart and Schikaneder had attended several performance of Sethos and evidently they liked it a great deal. It is far too serendipitous how often aspects and nuances embedded in Sethos show up in Zauberflöte. More telling is the fact that, after they had seen Sethos, Mozart and Schikaneder went back and completely revamped the second act of Zauberflöteso as not to be accused of plagiarism, reversing the aspects of good and evil portrayed by Sarastro and the Queen of Night, and adding Masonic symbols.

There's more. Mozart and Schikaneder were both informed by the works of Shakespeare; in fact, Schikaneder was one of the leading Hamlets, Macbeths and Lears of his day. In the last months of his life, Mozart was planning to compose an opera to Shakespeare's The Tempest. There are indeed several strong correspondences between Zauberflöte and The Tempest: Sarastro and Prospero align symmetrically,  Tamino and Pamina can be re-imagined as Ferdinand and Miranda, the Three Ladies' episodic musical antics conjure Ariel, and Monostatos and Caliban each serve as their master's evil assistants.  
Julie Taymor's design
realized here by Opera Australia

from a 1984 Royal Shakespeare production
directed by Anthony Quayle

    Zauberflöte was also likely inspired by a popular opera of the day, Lulu, oder Zauberflöte, taken from C.M. Weiland's anthology Dschinnistan,  which in turn derived from Sufi's tales of  Djinnistan ("The country of the Djinn, or "paradise spirits"). These tales parallel the classic literary form of Bildungsroman, the coming-of-age story, the journey of  an individual's  moral growth and initiation , from wayward darkness (and thus, ignorance) to light (and thus, wisdom or knowledge): to wit, the very journey undertaken by Tamino.

Queen of Night
L'Opera de Montreal
Empress Maria Theresa
of Austria-Hungary
Could Zauberflöte also have contained  a hidden political agenda?  Mozart and his earlier and brilliant librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, through Beaumarchais' original play, had already shown their capacity (and desire) to poke fun at the aristocracy in Le Nozze di Figaro, where servants behave better and trump their overlords in words, deeds and actions. 

Similarly, in Die Zauberflöte, as Stephen Siefert has insightfully written, a  one-to-one correspondence can be drawn between the operatic characters and the political figures of the era. In this syllogism, The Queen of Night represents the reactionary Maria Theresa, and by extension, the whole of the ancien regime. Sarasto can be seen as a surrogate for Ignaz von Born, the Master of Vienna's most prominent Masonic Lodge, a brilliant scientist and a philosopher of the Enlightenment philosophy of rational thought. Tamino stands either for Joseph II or for his younger brother Leopold II, who had just recently become Emperor, and who arguably required some form of  "education" to become the enlightened ruler his brother had been. Pamina represents the Austrian populace, and Monostatos, in this metaphor, the Catholic Church. 2

Die Zauberflote was a great success. Cautiously optimistic  on opening night, Mozart and Schikaneder knew after a few more shows that they had fashioned the eighteenth century-equivalent of a Tony-award winner. Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon relates that after the sixth performance, on October 7th, Mozart  wrote to his wife Constanze (who was in Baden taking the baths) that,  "I have this moment returned from the opera, which was as full as ever...., but what always gives me the greatest pleasure is the silent approval ! You can see how this opera is becoming more and more esteemed." Mozart had  a lot of fun with the opera along the way.  At one performance, he decided that he himself would play the Glockenspiel from the wings,  purposely mistiming his entrances to confuse Schikaneder's Papageno !
The opening night
playbill for
Die Zauberflöte
Sept 30, 1791
Mozart returned many times that October to the Theater auf der Wieden to see his Zauberflöte, once bringing his mother-in-law Caecilia Weber (about whom he quipped to Schikaneder that "she will see it (the opera), but she will not hear it.")  On another night, Mozart invited his colleague (and not, in historical fact, his nemesis) the court composer Antonio Salieri, who arrived squiring the soprano Caterina Cavalieri (they were an item at that point). Mozart's very last surviving letter (again to Constanza, dated October 14, 1791), contains this comment: "Salieri listened and watched most attentively, and from the sinfonia (overture)  to the final chorus there was not a single item that failed to draw from him  a "bravo" or a "bello"!"  Indeed, Mozart  went on to tell Constanza that Salieri and Cavalieri  had both enthused that  "it (Zauberflöte)  was a true  Operone (a "Grand Opera"), worthy to performed before the greatest monarchs and before the grandest festivity, and that they certainly would see it very often, for they had never seen such a more beautiful and agreeable piece." 4

Act I Scene XV, entitled "Tamino warding off wild beasts"
portrays an aspect of the racist subtext of the opera
Engraving by Joseph and Peter Schaffer, 1793
There is also a hidden and uncomfortable aspect to Zauberflöte. The opera has been episodically attacked as being both racist and sexist. Monostatos, a Moor, is depicted as having dark skin, as being easily duped and, in his attempts to ravish Pamina,  as being a sexual predator, all of which points are impossible to refute. 

The role of women in the opera, and in Freemasonry in general, trends towards the submissive, the oppressed and the left out. Tamino's journey (and Pamina's as well, for that matter) begins within a  matriachal point of view (The Queen of Night as benevolent in Act I) and ends in Act II  in a patriarchal matrix (Queen of Night as evil, and Sarastro, now seen as Tamino's father-figure, as benevolent). It is immediately apparent that there is an underlying sexual tension in the opera (as in almost all of Mozart's operas), beginning at the outset when the Three Ladies individually and collectively lust after the sleeping (fainted) Tamino after they had just slain the serpent which had been threatening him. However, Mozart and Schikaneder, by having Pamina  leading Tamino, and then  having her initiated with him into the rites of Sarastro and his priests (representing Masonic ritual) demonstrated that they actually had a more modern, balanced and liberated view of things for their time.

Sarastro and the Temple of Priests
A perceptive,  albeit  androcentric,  analysis of the matriarchal/patriarchal issues in Die Zauberflöte was offered by M. O.  Lee (Father Owen Lee) for the Metropolitan Opera in 2006, who wrote that:
     "The Magic Flute is not just an allegory of the eighteenth century struggle between Catholicism and Freemasonry; it is an imaginative description of something much older and more important, of humankind's primeval progression from nature to culture, from unreason to reason, and from matriarchy to patriarchy. Man's first deities were not father gods but mother goddesses. In our oldest mythologies, Mother Earth antedates Father Sky, Gaia is older than Uranus.... Taboo, spells and magic were important.... magic was replaced with ritual, and taboo with morality.... and the mother goddess yielded to a father god. The hero-myth is again fashionable thanks to Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. In their writings, the mythic-hero goes on a quest for his father, which is ultimately a quest for his own self. If he is fortunate, he is joined by a companion.... who represents everything that the hero himself is not. Jung calls this figure the shadow, potentially dangerous to the psyche of the hero unless he is won over. But if he is won over, the shadow is helpful to the hero, as Tonto is to the Lone Ranger, or Jim to Huck Finn, or Sancho Panza to Don Quixote, Pylades to Orestes, Patroclus to Achilles, or Papageno  to Tamino." 5

Can there be an even deeper level of understanding of this great opera?  Is Die Zauberflöte , at its core, an esoteric tract, a mystical treatise of the most secret of the ancient philosophies and mythical alchemical transmutations?  

Is it possible that Die Zauberflöte, beyond its exoteric manifestation as an enjoyable Grimm fairy-tale opera of morality, and beyond its mesoteric exegesis as a Masonic source book, is also an esoteric text, a guide with hidden meanings, understandable and knowable only to the initiated, to groups like the Illuminati? This represents a profound, heretofore  rarely discussed epistemological level of interpretation of the opera, one that is at once also the most controversial. Does Die Zauberflöte contain within it, some "Secret Knowledge," a system of living, to allow the initiated to attain an enhanced cosmic awareness or eternal life?

In the latter decades of the eighteenth century, which corresponded to the autumn of the  Age of the Englightenment,  there was a dramatic shift in the acquisition, understanding  and dissemination of knowledge. Accompanying the demise of alchemy and other speculative, so-called Hermetic philosophies (pseudepigraphically articulated by Hermes Trismegistus - a conflation of the magic/medicine gods of the Greeks (Hermes) and Egyptians (Thoth)),  was their gradual replacement by scientific inquiry and the rise of formal fields of  study:  anatomy, biology, chemistry, geology and mineralogy.

The ancient Eleusinian
Mysteries as depicted on
a red-figure krater kylex
However, even as  the alchemical arts declined, there remained a desire by some  proto-scientists to  memorialize the writings about what they  had still imputed to be a mystical energy source, some of which concepts were contained in the Eleusinian mysteries  and others of which  followed the alchemical grail of the material (in contradistinction  to the spiritual) transmutation of lead into gold, the so -called "Philosopher's stone,"  which subjects were still part of the contemporary conversation.  

Alchemy was based on  three fundamental forms of matter: sulfur, mercury and salt.  Norfleet, in a thoroughly researched article on the relationship of alchemy  to Die Zauberflöte,  explains that  this tripartite principle derives   from Neoplatonism. In Neoplatonic thought (which  began from revisions to Plato's philosophy by Plotinus in the third century C.E.), there are three levels of spiritual reality (the hypostases), which deal with aspects  of  the nous, or soul, and which combine with the four levels of physical reality - air, earth, water and fire.6 

Die Zauberflöte is rich in the triadic numerology that has already been discussed. Overlaying  this with a  quaternary numerology,  can one uncover  both  threes and fours (and thus, sevens) in Zauberflöte?  Is it simple serendipity that both the Egyptian pyramid and the Masonic symbol have a  four-sided base with triangular sides?  Is it not curious that Papageno specifically plays the Pan Pipes - which contain exactly seven reeds?  If one adds up the three pairs of operatic principals (Tamino/Pamina. Papageno/Papagena. Sarastro/Queen of the Night) equalling six, and then adds Monostatos (whose name literally  means "to stand alone") to make seven, is that just coincidence?

The three Principles of Alchemy
The pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) at Giza
Is this four-sided base pyramid a
Masonic symbol as well as an Illuminati marker?



The serpent, in alchemical doctrine, is a physical manifestation of the tripartite principle of matter; and it is a serpent which Tamino confronts at the beginning of Zauberflöte, and which is slain by the Three Ladies (there's that numerology of three again, hmmmm). 

There are further esoteric allusions in the opera. Does Tamino's journey parallel that of the Cathars, neo-Manichean dualistic heretics, or perhaps the Knights Templar themselves, both of which groups had esoteric codes and were persecuted by the Church over centuries ?  The number 22 is one of the most important numbers in their philosophy. Do the 22 cards that represent the Major Arcana of the Tarot also serve as markers  for  the exactly 21 arias  plus the Overture (= 22) that comprise Die Zauberflöte?

The Bavarian Illuminati
These esoteric concepts resonated deeply with another secret society,  the Bavarian Illuminati, founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776, which was an offshoot  birthed of the Enlightenment, aligned with, but separate from, Freemasonry (many members were in both groups), comprised of free-thinkers in government, law, politics and the sciences, with its own arcane symbols and clandestine code.

Ignaz von Born (1742-1791)
Mineralogist, Metallurgist, Masonic Master
and member of the Bavarian Illuminati
Was von Born Mozart's archetype for Sarastro?
One key individual, who understood medieval proto-sciences while building upon the new Scientific Method, was the brilliant polymath, Ignaz von Born. In addition to being Master of the Masonic Lodge Zur Wohltätigkeit ("Beneficence"), von Born was appointed by the Empress Maria Theresa to head Vienna's Imperial Museum (later called the Natural History Museum). von Born was also an esteemed philosopher, a practicing lawyer and  a leading mineralogist and metallurgist. He became the first elected foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, while still finding the time to dabble in politics.   

As a leader of the Bavarian Illuminati, von Born was also the keeper of the secret flame of their esoteric knowledge, which he began to codify in 1784 in a book-length article entitled  The Egyptian Mysteries which was then published in the  Journal fur Freimaurer (The Journal of Freemasonry), as well as in a 1786 book on the alchemical amalgamation of precious metals.  Could von Born, who  mentored Mozart as a Masonic initiate in 1784 and became his close friend, have given the composer some profound insights into the esoteric arts? 

There is a tantalizing clue. 

In 1790, Schikaneder asked four of Vienna's most accomplished composers to collaborate on a fantasy-opera for his Freihaus Theater. There were to be four operas in this planned series,  an opera titled  Oberon was the first, while Zauberflöte, still unhatched at this point, ended up  being the last. The title of Schickaneder's proposed operatic pastiche was Der Stern der Wiesen, or The Philosopher's Stone. The Philosopher's Stone !  - the very grail of alchemy! 

Mozart himself contributed several arias to this fascinating and uncompleted work, some serious and, intriguingly, one comical. That was the aria nicknamed the "Cat Duet," Nun liebes weibchen, (KV 625/592a),  which is not only quite funny (replete with frequent "miaows"  by tenor and soprano), but which also presages his memorable Pa-pa-gena!/Pa-pa-geno! duet at the end of Die Zauberflöte.  In fact,  Der Stern der Wiesen called for a similar cast and discussed similar concepts as Zauberflöte: there is a hero on a journey, who must pass trials by fire and water, who is led by a comic guide named Lubano (shades of Papageno), and it starred Mozart's close friend, the tenor and flutist (how serendipitous!) Benjamin Schack, who would soon be his first Tamino. 

Mozart and Schikaneder actually conjured and then actualized a multi- layered operatic tour de force with Die Zauberflöte:  it was approachable and popular with the masses (while satirizing the monarchy), it played to sell-out audiences in theaters  all over Europe  for a decade after Mozart's death, it was interpretable by the Masons, and all the while it was serving as a secret lodestone for the Illuminati !
The Magic Flute
by Marc Chagall 1966
Beyond all of this exegesis, some real and some likely conjured  from  the many  layers of analytical  sediment deposited  by  two centuries of interpretation,  Die Zauberflöte remains an enigma, its inherent ambiguity purposeful. The opera coruscates as a crystal, reflecting one's own hopes, fears and experiences, which in turn only deepen  the admiration and reverence of this masterpiece. As a  musical work, it draws the listener in, at first with simple sing-song, then with indelible musical love poems, and at its climax,  with a monumental tonal paean to hope, faith and virtue.  As a literary work, it intrigues the reader with allegory and complex  symbolism, and its disparate, yet mystically interconnected philosophies. As a visual work, it captivates the viewer with its trajectory,  from darkness to the brilliance of  light. Die Zauberflöte  can thus be seen as the paradigm of the  Gesamtkunstwerk,  the idealized and  complete work of Art, which one can visit and then revisit again throughout life, from childhood into senescence, at each stage always finding new secrets, new harmonies and new understandings within.
Wolfgang  Mozart
The posthumous oil by Barbara Kraft (1819)
Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Vienna

Ref .1.   Hirschmann, J. "What Killed Mozart?" Archives of Internal Medicine,161: 1381-1389, 2001.
Ref. 2    Seifert, S."The Origins, Meanings, Rituals and Values of The Magic Flute," Opera Colorado
Ref. 3    Solomon, M.  Mozart: A Life,  New York, Harper Perennial, 1995.   
Ref. 4   Branscombe, P. Die Zauberflöte, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pg. 153
Ref. 5    Lee, M.O. Metropolitan Opera Intermission Notes, Die Zauberflöte, January 21, 2006
Ref. 6    Norfleet, P. http://mozart2051.tripod.com/levels_meaning.htm
Copyright 2012, 2013, 3014   Vincent P. de Luise MD     A Musical Vision

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