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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the Austrian wunderkind, was an accomplished and magnificently gifted musician. He is attributed with the composition of 22 operas in his 35-year life, but his most successful theatre work was his last. Die Zauberflote, completed in 1791, was written specifically for the Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna. The theatre housed a troupe of actors led by Emmanuel Schikaneder, a versatile actor and writer who crafted the libretto of Zauberflote and portrayed Papageno at its premiere. Zauberflote was written in the singspiel operatic style; the libretto is in the vernacular – German – language, spoken dialogue is interspersed with recitative and aria, and there is a folk-like strophic style in the music. Schikaneder had known Mozart since 1780, but the two artists enjoyed a more meaningful relationship when Schikaneder became a member of the Viennese Masonic Lodge, to which Mozart already belonged. The libretto and score for Zauberflote is replete with references and symbols from Freemasonry. Many scholars have asserted that the entire work is an allegory for the principles and ceremonies of the secret society. Regardless of this claim’s validity there is a deliberate tonal and structural language used in Zauberflote, and the contributions of Schikaneder and Mozart leave much to be studied.

The overture in Eb major opens with three fully orchestrated chords. The number three appears throughout Mozart’s score, and this Masonic number’s application at the beginning of the opera, both in the chords and the three-flat key, is hardly coincidence. Twelve placid measures follow in what can be called ‘the calm before the storm’. The second violins open the Allegro by introducing a dynamic staccato fuga…

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…ning about the Masonic dictates of honesty and secrecy. The first handmaiden presents Tamino with a gift: a magic flute. The tonality returns to tonic Bb as the ladies explain the flute’s power over human emotions. As soon as the prince receives his gift, Papageno decides to bid farewell his companions. His cowardly desire causes the key to fall into g minor. The maidens assure the flighty birdman that Tamino will protect him, and they entice Papageno with a gift of his own. He is given magical bells, and his decision to stay with the prince brings the key back to Bb major. The Quintet comes to a close with an Andante in which the maidens give Tamino and Papageno instructions for their quest. The clarinets join the strings, horns, and double reeds in this final section, and the orchestra delivers three soft Bb major chords to close the scene.

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