The worldwide fraternal organization of Freemasonry calls itself “a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” It is in fact nothing more than an educational society, attempting to teach its members a moral philosophy of life – it strives for a regeneration of humanity by moral means. But the secrecy of this the world’s largest brotherhood, deemed necessary to ensure that aspiring members truly meet their moral standards, has always evoked a vague feeling of unease and suspicion. And this was even more so the case during the revolutionary age of the late 18th century.
During this time, Freemasonry also had a pronounced political aspect to it. After all, the era of Enlightenment brought with it The American and French Revolutions and the old monarchies of Europe were nervous about anything suggesting social reform or change. Hadn’t the revolt of the American colonies been led by many a Mason; George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin among them? Hadn’t the Masons in France been behind the push for republican government?
Before the Revolution, Austrian emperors, for instance, often took a benign view of Masonry’s belief that man is perfectible through reason. But in this revolutionary context they too suspected treason when the Masons argued that there would be no need for monarchs in a fully enlightened society. And into this turbulent period enters a harmless musician, “brother Mozart”.
Mozart joined a Masonic Lodge in the autumn of 1784 at the age of twenty-eight and spent a total of 7 years as a Mason. A famous child prodigy and now an admired composer living in Vienna, it wasn’t long before he attained the rank of “Master Mason” and during this time composed several musical pieces for the brotherhood; among them his Freemason’s Funeral Music and other works that are still played in ceremonies of Masonry today.
But it was Mozart’s last opera, The Magic Flute, which is said to offer the most esoteric, Masonic symbolism and meaning. The Magic Flute has been described as “an Enlightenment allegory, veiled in Masonic ritual”. The story, founded on a fable by Wieland, is based upon circumstances connected with the mysterious worship of Isis, the deity of the ancient Egyptians. It is also a story and a text that is very flighty, improbable and full of absurdities. But the libretto is packed full of symbols and references to the actual rituals of Freemasonry, perhaps contributing to the confusion of all those unfamiliar with Freemasonry itself – still shrouded in secrecy as it is.
The number three, for instance, has an important significance for the Masons and occurs repeatedly throughout the piece. There are consistent references made to the number three, whether it has to do with temples, ladies, boys or even a serpent cut into three pieces. Inscriptions upon the three temples refer to “Nature”, “Reason” and “Wisdom”, also obviously of Masonic origin – as are other references to armor, silver, gold, chariots and the final defeat of evil by the powers of light. And to the Viennese of that day, political symbolism was easily and broadly interpreted; they saw the opera’s Queen of the Night as no one other than their own Empress Maria Theresa, the hero Tamino was seen to be the “good” Emperor Joseph and the heroine Pamina was the Austrian people itself.
And this political symbolism, real or imagined, helped contribute to the eventual banning of Masonry in Austria. The Austrian government was becoming increasingly alarmed about treasonous sentiments, especially in the Masonic orders. Its secret police reported the names of high officials involved in the brotherhood. Not too much later, the young and inexperienced Francis II was easily swayed by his conservative advisors and in June of 1795 an order came down to close all Masonic lodges in the Empire.
Freemasonry ceased to exist in Austria for more than a century. But The Magic Flute, not only possibly Mozart’s greatest piece of music – it is said to also contain every form of music, from lied to chorale to fugue – it has also remained synonymous with Masonic symbolism to this very day.
And as for Mozart himself, his last great opera opened in Vienna on the evening of September 30, 1791. He conducted the first two performances before being taken ill by what would be his last malady. He would soon die, after the opera’s 67th performance, on the 5th of December that very year.