SFOpera - Magic Flute: The Masonic Opera

Magic Flute: The Masonic Opera

Mozart’s Magic Flute creates for most audiences a whimsical world in which a prince encounters ferocious dragons and enchanted musical instruments while on a noble quest to rescue a beautiful princess. Mozart’s Viennese brother Freemasons in the audience for the initial performances of The Magic Flute saw something else hidden in this story:  Tamino’s journey to seek Masonic membership in Act One and his initiation into the fraternity in Act Two. The libretto does not portray an exact Masonic degree but renders it symbolically so as not to disclose the “secrets” of Freemasonry.

Continental Masonry during Mozart’s time also included Lodges of Adoption which admitted both men and women to membership with ceremonies based on Masonic teachings and practices.  Pamina joins Tamino’s quest for Masonic enlightenment in the The Magic Flute by seeking admission into a Lodge of Adoption.

What symbols did Mozart and his brother Mason, The Magic Flute’s librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, use to disguise these two initiations? There are many, but here are a few.  There is of course a magic flute. It is not an instrument of magic in the sense that its use can solve a problem beyond mortal intervention.  It is an instrument to create enchantment, because music brings harmony. The harmony of the universe is hermetically represented in Freemasonry by the science of geometry and is therefore the basis of all of Masonic symbolism. During the opera, when the flute is played, harmony or balance is restored.  The libretto tells us that this flute was made of wood but of gold color. It was created in perfection because of the involvement of four elements: it was produced on a rainy night (water), to the noise of thunder (earth) and the flash of lightening (fire) and was designed to work using man’s breath (air).

The study of alchemy revolved around these four elements: Earth, Air, Water and Fire. These elements were said to be symbolic representations of the four fundamental qualities of matter.  The alchemists believed that these four elements were not only material but also spiritual forces and therefore components of a human being. An individual’s particular combination of earth, air, water and fire determined his or her personality type. Those who had near equal proportions of the four elements were thought to be more intelligent and to have the most exact perceptions. To demonstrate a balance of these four elements, each of the Masons in Mozart’s audience would have passed symbolically during their Masonic initiation through a test for each of Earth, Air, Water and Fire.

In the opera, Tamino passes through these same four tests on his Masonic journey. The test by Earth happens in the Cabinet of Reflection. The test by Air is represented by the temptations of human life when food is provided by the three boys to Tamino and when Pamina tries to get Tamino to break his vow of silence. The tests of Water and Fire are clear from the libretto. Papageno and Papagena undergo mini-tests to mimic the four elemental tests but they do so only in comedic imitation of Tamino and Pamina. The opera ends with an allusion to the Conjugal Avowal or Masonic marriage, a ceremony conducted in Continental Masonry when a Mason married or a married man became a Mason.

Masonic symbolism is apparent in the music also. The key of C major, without any sharps or flats, was seen by Masons as representing light, and hence perfection and hope. The key of E-flat major, with its three flats, was said to represent Freemasonry itself. The opera’s overture is in the key of E-flat major. Act I ends with an ebullient chorus celebrating brotherhood, the final few bars of which are another, brilliant fanfare, this time in C major, the Key of Light.

The number three has Masonic symbolism. It represents two opposites brought into equilibrium by a third force which harmonizes the two extremes. Liberty and Equality in their purest forms are polar opposites, but they are brought into equilibrium by the intercession of Fraternity.  E-flat major with its three flats was therefore viewed as an appropriate Masonic key. You hear three note musical patterns often in the opera which symbolize the intercession of harmony to bring order out of chaos.

Enjoy The Magic Flute on both levels: a whimsical world but one which disguises for the perceptive a search for that harmony which is at the foundation of the universe.

Love Conquers All