Wednesday, 5 December 2018


Did You Know?

Wolfgang Amadè Mozart surrounded by angelic putti.
Today marks the 227th anniversary of the death of Western classical music's most celebrated icon: Wolfgang Amadè Mozart, who passed away at the tender age of 35 of causes that remain undetermined: the description noted in a Vienna death register of "hitziges Frieselfieber" - or high intermittent fever accompanied by rash, otherwise known as miliary fever - left much to the imagination. 

Owing to custom at the time of Mozart's death, attending physicians were not required to provide a death certificate for the recently deceased - in Mozart's case, that task was left to a Viennese city official, whose curious entry created more questions than provided answers: "hitziges Frieselfieber" amounted to little more than a vague description of the sympoms experienced by the composer before death - it did not conclusively answer what killed him.

Most of us will be familiar with the legend of a highly romanticized image of Mozart, bedbound and sickly, dictating his Requiem to an duplicitous former colleague in the much-beleaguered Italian émigré and Imperial Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri - a popular, fictional fable made famous in the writings of Alexander Pushkin (in the famous Russian playwright's 1830 poetic drama "Mozart and Salieri" ), in the subsequent operatic adaptation by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1897, and most notably in filmmaker Miloš Foreman's 1984 epic "Amadeus,"  after the play by Peter Shaffer.

Unraveling Musical Myths has debunked the delicious folklore of each of these masterpieces in detail in previous posts, and will thus spare the reader any repetition here. Suffice to say, although Mozart's glorious, unfinished Requiem in D minor was in fact worked on by the composer up until the time of his passing (although not alongside Salieri), the mass was not, in the truest sense of the word, Mozart's de-facto final work.

That honor lay with the composer's final, completed work: a cantata in honor of his Freemason brethren entitled “Eine Kleine Freimaurer-Kantate” (A Little Masonic Cantata, K.623), written during the composers surprisingly productive, final year on earth.[1]

The brief cantata, entered in Mozart's own hand into his catalogue of works (his “Verzeichnüss aller meiner Werke”) on 15th November 1791, would be conducted by the composer himself three days later at its official premiere before an intimate gathering of Freemasons at the opening of the new temple of the “New-Crowned Hope” Lodge, marking the last time Mozart would appear in public as a performer-composer. The works debut would come during an all-too-brief period of remission from the final, mysterious illness which would force the composer to take to his bed two days later (on the 20th of November), and which would ultimately rob the musician of his life at the tender age of 35.

Am unknown Viennese Freemason Lodge, formerly identified as Mozart's New-Crowned Hope Lodge:
"Innenansicht der Wiener Loge," c.1790, attr. Ignaz Unterberger (Wien Museum Karlsplatz)

The Freimaurer-Kantate would briefly hold the distinction of semi-legendary status prior to that of the composer's final, unfinished work, the famous Requiem,[2] which would by all measures eclipse the heaps of critical praise rightfully awarded the jubilant cantata. Where Mozart's Requiem bid farewell to life in the melancholic key of D minor, the “Little Masonic Cantata” – which opens with a chorus which sings of how its fellow Masons “Loudly Proclaim Our Joy” - does just that: in the exultant key of C major, the cantata celebrates life itself – it's primary recitative a proclamation of the efforts of the Freemason brotherhood of 1791[3] - which fancied itself a gathering of the intellectually and morally elite – to uphold and extol into the world extreme virtue:

“Sweet are the feelings of a mason on such an auspicious occasion, when the chains of brotherhood which binds us are forged anew; sweet the feeling that humanity has come again to dwell with mankind; sweet the remembrance of that former place where every Brother's heart show what he was, and what he is, and what he may become; where truest love and brotherhood are found, and where the queen of all the virtues, the greatest, highest of virtues, Beneficence, is enthroned in quiet radiance.”

Indeed, even Mozart himself is said to have considered the Masonic Cantata as one of his finest works. According to his widow Constanze, the composer, upon finishing the work, quipped:

“If I didn't know that I had written better things, I would regard this as my best work.”

Referred to by contemporary critics as his “Swan-song,” Mozart's Freimaurer-Kantate, set for three-part male-voice chorus with tenor and bass soloists, and orchestral accompaniment of strings, flute, oboes and horns begins with a chorus hailing the consecration of the New-Crowned Hope Lodge, followed by the recitative translated above (in which two tenors compare the Freemason “Brotherhood” to the goddess of wellness, Beneficence – a double entendre of sorts in which the invocation of the Divinity simultaneously pays indiscreet homage to the Zur Wohltätigkeit Lodge in Vienna in which Herr Mozart was initiated into the degree of 'Apprentice' in 1784.)

The comparison of the noble attributes shared by the members of the 'Brotherhood' (and the aspirations of mankind as a whole) with the charitable, virtuous Divinity continues on into the first aria of the cantata – an homage to the goddess extolled by two tenors – with a libretto that embraces the shared qualities of temperance and servitude. This is quickly followed up a recitative and aria in which a solo tenor and bass re-assert the Freemason code of honor: to “banish forever from [their] breasts...envy, greed and slander” and to continue to renew oneself in the virtuous tenets of love, and of harmony.

In effect, Mozart's Freimauer-Kantate is a song of fraternity and of noble aspiration. It was the cantata which found itself the subject of awe, and of raving reviews immediately following the composer's untimely death: an obituary published in the Bayreuther-Zeitung on the 13th of December reads:

“Music has suffered an irreparable loss. He died too early for his family and for art, to which he would have presented still more moments to his abilities. His last work was the composition of a cantata which he had supplied to the local Freemasons, of which he was a member...said to be a masterpiece of noble simplicity.”


Listen below to Mozart's Freimauer-kantate. Chorus Viennensis and the Wiener Akademie perform under Martin Haselböck.

[1]Works during this year included two full length operas: Die Zauberflöte (K.620) and La Clemenza di Tito (K.621), three concertos in the same year (a personal feat not accomplished since 1786); an adagio and rondo for the glass armonica, flute oboe, viola and cello (Benjamin Franklin's new instrument, designated K.617); string quintet, concert aria (“Io ti lascio, oh cara, addio,” K.621a); a contrapuntal study (K620b); two cantatas ("Eine kleine deutsche Kantate,” K 619 and the presently aforementioned cantata on which this article is based, K.623); 160 bars of an incomplete andante for piano four hands, and an unfinished Requiem. A full listing of Mozart's output in his final year may be found in the Köchel catalogue, or via Mozart's own Thematic catalogue, recently digitized for online access by the British Library.

[2] At the time of his passing, Mozart had completed of his Requiem the Introit in full score, and vocal parts, continuo and some instrumental passages had been written for the Kyrie, Dies Irae, Tuba mirum, Rex Tremendae, Recordare, Confutatis, (eight bars of) the Lacrimosa, Domine Jesu and Hostias. Realisations of the Requiem were first attempted by the Austrian composer Joseph Leopold Eybler, who had partially orchestrated the Sequence before returning the score to Mozart's former pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who completed it in February 1792. The alleged hand of Mozart's former pupil Franz Jacob Freystädtler having authored the orchestral parts of the Kyrie (with the exception of the trumpet and timpani parts) remain a subject of derision among modern scholars. An incomplete version of the Requiem as Mozart had left it before death has been attempted in modern times – Conductor Christoph Spering issued a recording of the unfinished work in 2002 through the OPUS 111 label. Listen to it here (note that the tempi used by Spering may not be Mozart's own.)

[3]The Freemasons in 1791 existed as a society far removed from its present establishment. Described as an “anti-Catholic/non religious” group of  “..closely-united men who, employing symbolical forms borrowed principally from the mason's trade and from architecture, work for the welfare of mankind, striving morally to ennoble themselves and others, and thereby to bring about a universal league of mankind, which they aspire to exhibit even now on a small scale" - quotes by E.J. Dent, Mozart's Operas, edition II, pp. 230

Graphic: Unraveling Musical Myths
Mozart's beloved opera “Die Zauberflöte” (The Magic Flute), composed in his final year, is set to receive for the first time, the Hollywood treatment with a big-budget adaptation directed by German filmaker Roland Emmerich (of Independence Day and Godzilla fame.) Presently in pre-production, a detailed synopsis and further information on the film's production may be viewed at Pantaflix Group.

Mozart recently played second wheel in another film portrayal,  "Interlude in Prague" in 2017.  In that production, Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard (who bears an uncanny resemblance in the film to the infamous Lange portrait of the composer) plays the romantic adversary of the fictitious Baron Saloka for the affections of a young soprano - a love triangle which unfolds against the backdrop of the creation of Mozart's dramatic opera Don Giovanni. 

Although Emmerich's upcoming film will feature characters and a storyline which fall oustide of Mozart's Magic Flute, the production team promises the film will be a "music-driven, full-length feature film."

'Game of Thrones' VFX firm Pixomondo joins Emmerich produced adaptation of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte; shooting to commence mid-summer.
- Rose.

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