The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute

Excerpt

Mozart composed "The Magic Flute" during the last year of his short life, at the instigation of Emanuel Schikaneder, an impresario, theatre poet, as well as actor and singer. In dire financial straits at the time ( March, 1791), Schikaneder appealed to Mozart, who was a Masonic brother of his, asking him to write an opera for which Schikaneder himself had written the libretto. This libretto was based on a fairy-tale "Lulu, or the Magic Flute" from a collection "Dschinnistan" by the German poet Wieland. For a time it was presumed that K. L. Gieseke, an actor and writer who was a member of Schikaneder's troupe, had been the author of the book. However, the truth of this supposition has never been proven.

In the original story, the Queen of the Night represented the power of Good, and Monostatos, the Moor, the forces of Evil. Later,—and this change was most likely inspired by Mozart,—the opposing forces were reversed, and with the introduction of Sarastro, the High Priest of the Temple of Wisdom, the original plot was elevated to a much higher ethical level. The Masonic ideals of Friendship and Brotherhood lent themselves well to this purpose. Thus Tamino, after starting out with the thought of revenge, submits to the trials of purification, and is finally ordained to the priesthood of the Mysteries of Isis and Osiris.

Although the libretto of "The Magic Flute" has been frequently criticized as "weak", "silly" and "confused", it has met the approval of men like Beethoven and Herder, as well as Goethe, who was inspired to write a sequel to it called "The Magic Flute, Part II". The story does indeed possess advantages which make it superior to many an opera book. Not only is the basic idea simple and effective theatrically, but it offered Mozart the material for employing an amazing versatility in his musical treatment. To name but a few instances: the simple folk-tone of Papageno's music, the German melodic style employed in the music of Tamino and Pamina, the Gluck-inspired atmosphere of Sarastro's music and that of the priests; and the figured chorale in the style of Bach in the passage for the Men-in-Armor.

With "The Magic Flute", Mozart fulfilled his life-long desire to create a "German" opera. He was not permitted to witness the true extent of the glorious triumph of his work, for two months after the premiere, he died. . .

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