Magic Flute Unveiled
Book review by Ellen P. Randolph, February 1, 1999
[What follows is an attempt to summarize (and comment on) Magic Flute Unveiled by Jacques Chailley (ISBN 089281358x).
Let me say upfront that I am not qualified to make many comments on the musical score or on the conscious intentions of Mozart or Schikaneder, so I’ll try to refrain from doing that. Also, I believe that “Magic Flute” is symbolic of the understanding of the great minds of the time period but that it isn’t necessarily what I believe to be the (full) intent of the Greater Mind (if you get my meaning).]
Magic Flute Unveiled is written in three sections: 1. The origins and history of the opera – words and music; 2. The symbolic meanings of the words, music and stage directions; and 3. The symbolic support provided the composer and his techniques. Since I’m not at all knowledgeable regarding musical notation, etc, I will unfortunately have to leave that aspect out to some extent. Unfortunately – because the author uses repetitve musical “cues” as evidence for his major theory. (For those interested, please read the book).
The first section was somewhat slow-going. The major points of interest were:
1. The opera was apparently written complete before Mozart began to score it, so the idea that was a choppy copy of other operas is pretty well discredited. The overall sense is that the opera was based on popular operas of the time (some of which were written by Masons, too), but that the symbology, if correctly understood, is complete and meaningful rather than senseless and childish.
2. That Mozart loved the opera and considered it worthy of seeing again and again.
3. That there was a fascinating person, and Freemason, by the name of Baron Ignaz von Born (p16) who may have influenced Mozart. Interesting to note: He was born in 1742 in Transylvania, a pupil of the Jesuits, a mineralogist, in Vienna in 1776, particularly interested in the restoration of ritual, died 1791.
4. That Mozart’s funeral was not unusual for Vienna at the time
5. That the Order of Mopses (Female Masonry “Adoption Lodges”) was of more significance and/or concern to male Masonry than I had thought. (I’ll have to research this, because the author’s key theory rests on the idea that male Masonry felt Masonry, as a school, was in danger from such a group.)
The second section was for me much more interesting. Now we get to the “meat” of the book. The author’s main ideas as to the meaning intended by Mozart and his contemporaries are based on the idea that the Queen of the Night and her Ladies are representative of Female Masonry, and in a larger sense the “world without Light”. His theory is presented pretty well, with the actual notes of the music and the words of the libretto to back him up. There are many apparently anti-feminism quotes available from the opera, which the author uses but gallantly shows that Pamina redeems herself from the usual fate of “flighty” women. He also uses the symbolism of beats and notes in the music to represent the nature of the speakers: 3 knocks (man); 5 knocks (woman); E-flat major to represent the Law; C major Wisdom; the B’s for the women and those woman-ly; etc.
The third section relates to the composition and although it was interesting, I’m sure a lot of it was beyond my comprehension.
1. It is interesting that he doesn’t recognize the 3 Ladies as the 3 phases of the moon.
2. If there are two meanings of man: “Be a Man” and “Am I not a man?”; then why aren’t there two meanings of woman?
3. The whole opera is in balance: The 3 Ladies with the 3 Boys, Tamino/Pamina; Papageno/a; Sarastro/Queen. Then, Monostatos (who “stands alone”) — but really isn’t his whole plea and existence and punishment about Justice? Just as the Priests are? I think that the author was not familiar with the Kabbalah. If he had been, I think he might have had other interpretations, especially about the feminine symbols.
4. The meaning of 5: There are many opinions about this but one theory that is not addressed in the book (and perhaps should have been) is the idea that 5 may represent the complete Man, rather than just the masculine. The right triangle suggests this. Does the five-pointed star mean the divine man, the magical man, the physical man …?
5. Isn’t it interesting that the Queen is a widow and that her husband’s treasures were divided equally between herself and Sarastro (the solar)? You know, a lesser-known myth about Isis is that she stole the secret word from Ra, the solar god? And her son is the Horus, a solar god himself? The implication in the opera is that the Queen wanted the portion that was not hers.
4. The 3 Ladies served Tamino well until he became an initiate, at which point he learned more from the 3 Boys, and so the implication is that they are functions of a developmental level that is appropriate in its place. The Boys themselves did not enter the Temple and so, they also have a proper place.
5. The correspondences between the elements, the metals, the tools, the animals, the colors, etc, are very interesting. Also, the author shows clearly the time of day as related to the trials (dawn, day, sunset, night). He doesn’t speak of the mythological theme of Persphone, the zodiac and the planets, and of journeys to the underworld, which he might have.
6. The flute, bells and the pipes as symbols. The relation of the balanced man with music. Again and again, the paths lead to music and mathematics.
7. The initiation of Pamina: The author makes a good case that Paminia’s initiation is due to the “justice and wisdom” of Sarastro rather than the understanding of the Priests. “A woman who fears neither night nor death is worthy of being consecrated.” It is not that she is less of a woman, but that she is a courageous, knowledgeable and disciplined woman — and therefore a worthy candidate. It would be interesting to study the original words to see who exactly says what about women and how it relates to the perceptions of the roles. Certainly, the Priests are very clear in their opinions.
All together, it was a very thought-provoking book. Well-worth the small price of $14.95. Anyone interested in the opera, Masonic ritual, the Kabbalah, the elements/directions, or mystery schools in general, would enjoy it, I think.