A few years ago, I spent a great deal of time researching Mozart’s life and especially his affiliations with Freemasonry. We know much about Mozart because there are many letters that have been preserved in the archives. As I poured over these amazing documents, I learned a lot about history. But it especially got me thinking about how the themes of freemasonry affected his musical style. After he became a Freemason, his tools of making music evolved into something completely different.
Do the ideals of Freemasonry inspire an artist?
We know the craft attracts many men and women from all walks of life. They not only change and shape their Lodge but the world around them. Mozart, a prolific musician and a Freemason was a mover and shaker of his time. He left his mark on the world with more than 600 works in a great range of genres. There are so many timeless lessons from his character, his creative process and his music that we can learn from.
At around five years old, he wrote his first composition, a Minuet and Trio in G major, listed as K 1. He eventually made it all the way up to K 626, his Requiem. Mozart possessed the outstanding ability for “photographing” everything that he heard. He could attend a concert and later write down the full composition of the concert. In one of Mozart’s letters to his father about Prelude and Fugue in C (K 394), Mozart writes:
I composed the fugue first and wrote it down while I was thinking out the prelude.
His genius was unquestionable. However, we don’t really know what inspired him. Where did his inspiration come from? What is inspiration, anyway? When we break apart the word “inspired,” we find it comes from two words “in” and “spirit.” The word literally means “in spirit.” In other words, when you are inspired by something, it means that you are living in spirit or in more masonic terms, “on the plumb.”
Just how important was the tie to freemasonry with his inspiration?
Mozart knocked on the door of Freemasonry in 1784. Being twenty-eight years old, the enlightenment was a glorious time for this young lad. The setting was revolutionary. Humanity stood on the threshold of a new era. Composers and musicians would no longer be viewed as mere servants, but as craftsmen in their own right.
In an excellent book by Paul Nettl called Mozart and Masonry, he remarks:
What led him to Masonry was the reflection and self- contemplation which followed his extensive wandering, and this also brought about the creation of his unique style.
Membership in the Royal Art for Mozart was not an impulsive act. He attended his Lodge regularly, advanced in the degrees and had many friends through his connections with the Lodge.
There is something very crucial to understand that relates to all this. Years and years of hard labor gave him a solid foundation to take his music to the next level. He labored incredibly hard, up at 5 am in the morning and often burned the midnight oil. He always pushed for something unique as a true gift to humanity, introducing his own shade of meaning into whatever he touched.
It would seem that the disciplines of Freemasonry inspired him greatly. No?
Mozart wrote a staggering amount of music considering his short years. It must be acknowledged that being controversial didn’t stop him. His music wasn’t appreciated by everyone – not even close. He was willing to put himself out there, especially with his masonic music. What exactly constitutes Mozart’s masonic music?
Music scholars say that Mozart’s “masonic” music generally falls into three categories.
- Masonic in nature, obviously written for Lodge occasions.
- Masonic in spirit, but not written specifically to be performed in a lodge.
- Written for other purposes, but adapted for use in lodge.
For example, the famous Clarinet Concerto in A Major (K 622) falls into the third category. Although not written for a Lodge occasion, he composed it for Anton Stadler, a member of his Lodge, who he shared the utmost of fidelity. Whenever he wrote as a token of friendship, he would add a different nuance depending on what the music was for. It was his gift. His wide circle of Lodge brothers inspired him greatly.
Most artists have admitted that they require the aid of inspiration to accomplish their work. Etienne Gibson, French philosopher, in Choir of Muses tells how music composer Sibelius describes an inspired experience:
When the final shape of our work depends on forces more powerful than ourselves, we can later give reasons for this passage or that, but taking it as a whole one is merely an instrument. The power driving us is that marvelous logic which governs a work of art. Let us call it God.
I believe that Sibelius is speaking of a different kind of inspiration, one that comes from still Higher Sources, the Great Architect of the Universe. Music is so abstract at times it gives you infinite ways to contact the Divine.
After his death, the Freemasons held a Lodge of Sorrows in Mozart’s memory, and the oration there delivered was printed by Ignez Alberti, a member of Mozart’s own Lodge.
An excerpt follows:
Though it is proper to recall his achievements as an artist, let us not forget to honor his noble heart. He was a zealous member of our order. His love for his brothers, his cooperative and affirmative nature, his charity, his deep joy whenever he could serve one of his brethren with special talents, these were his great qualities. He was a husband and father, a friend to his friends and a brother to his brothers…
Every so often when I’m lazing about, it makes me incredibly motivated to think about these histories from classical composers like Mozart. Sadly, we may never know what inspired Mozart. The composer’s intentions remain unknowable. I have to say the sheer intensity of his life does suggest something exceptional. Something inspired by the craft.