Mozart at the Memorial

February 23, 2014

Mozart at the Memorial

Shawn E. Eyer

A rare Masonic engraving of 1755 depicts a Tiler guarding the portal of a Masonic temple, above which are written the Latin words Pulsanti Aperietur, “Knock and it shall be opened.”

I thought of this image when the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association, performed at our Gala Concert in honor of Washington’s Birthday on February 22.

With three measured and distinct pulses, sonorous notes separated by pensive silence, signaled the beginning of the Philharmonic’s rendition of the overture from Brother Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. First performed in 1791, The Magic Flute is considered one of Brother Mozart’s greatest achievements, composed during a creative surge that came during the last months of his too-short life.

In fact, Mozart wrote the entire opera while ill with the disease that would soon overcome him. The overture, which the Washington Philharmonic performed for us, was written in a single day: September 28, 1791, just two days before the premiere.

Those three distinct pulses that Brother Mozart used to begin his overture are, of course, a musical rendition of the three distinct knocks that symbolize to every Freemason the passage from darkness to Light. And that is exactly the story of The Magic Flute. It was first intended only to be popular entertainment that would dazzle patrons with exotic costumes and fantastic sets. But Brother Mozart and his librettist, Brother Emanuel Schikaneder, delivered far more than that. The words and music of this opera are laden with the symbolism of Freemasonry. At times, this is heavily disguised. But often, the borrowing is quite direct. For example, when it is suggested that protagonist Tamino may not have the fortitude for initiation, being a prince, the Master responds, “He’s more than that—he is a man!” This was a truly Masonic and revolutionary idea, one whose time had come.

Music writer David Foil points out that instead of creating only an “escapist trifle,” Mozart “transcended the action of mere plot to plumb the depths and reach the heights of human longing and nobility.” That is why the story of The Magic Flute is outlandish and comical, yet strikes us simultaneously as serious and profound—especially in historical context. When the curtains first went up on this spectacular production, the world was changing in ways that had never been witnessed before. The successful American Revolution was inspiring new dreams of freedom around the world. Thinking men everywhere were debating the ideas of Thomas Paine’s, Rights of Man, hot off the press. The United States was in the process of adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, securing untold liberties for its citizens. And Brother George Washington was engaged in planning the new American capital city and the district that would contain it. The world was watching, and many realized that wherever these great changes were happening, the Masonic Brotherhood thrived.

The opera’s final act culminates in the victory of the temple initiates over the Queen of Night, as a chorus joyously intones the final, Masonically-inspired, words of the libretto:

Strength has triumphed, and grants as due wages
To Beauty and Wisdom its perpetual crown!

Hearing a selection from this amazing Masonic masterpiece in the Theater of our beautiful Memorial—erected in Wisdom, Strength and Beauty to inspire humanity with the virtues of the Father of our Country—was a moving experience I cannot forget.

Shawn E. Eyer is the Director of Communications and Development of The George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association.