In re: Erik Levi. Mozart and the Nazis: How the Third Reich Abused a Cultural Icon
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.
By Peter Paul Fuchs
“Macht gute miene, zum boesen spiel.”
— old German aside
Mozart’s fate after death is surely an odd one, if one takes political history and not just musical accomplishment into account. Of all the great composers, Mozart would seem to be the last genius one could make part of a campaign of political aggression. For the irreducible biographical fact that he was not the best at working the political system in his own day, which shows his essential devotion to his own artistic path above all, and distance from other interests. Any reflection on the extended meanings of the composer’s work, and his later influence, must be based in this basic fact of his biography. But the difficulty in assessing the closely- related issue of the centrality of his devotion to Masonic ideals in life and art has been complicated by precisely this odd posthumous fate for the musical genius. That the truth is stranger than any fiction one could conceive is thus magnificently clarified in Erik Levi’s magisterial Mozart and the Nazis. The book is a watershed cultural moment, as well as being a fine example of the historical craft, for it allows a number of vague and tangled misunderstandings in later Mozart historiography to be clarified.
The importance of telling this grim history, involving the very worst people misapplying virtually everything about the great man, is not only that Levi has nailed a bleak period in the history of aesthetics. It allows us first of all to see how distant from a coherent conception of the great musician many were for a long time, and how such affected others who were not even directly involved, through no fault of their own. Indeed, the very symbol of religious tolerance and respect of tradition in Mozart’s famous chant-based Men at Arms duet from Die Zauberfloete seems a poignant indictment, with martial feel in itself, against the literally heavily -armed and history-destroying Nazis; and thus Mozart’s music itself can be said to contain its own inherent aesthetic comment and rebuke. But history is necessary here, for as the coherence of Levi’s conclusions show, they make further speculations about Mozart in general music-politics warranted simply by dint of the very odd and irrefutable centrality of the composer for the important example of Nazi self- conceptions and propaganda. Yet there also seem to be wider meanings in the matter. Surely, it must always reluctantly be admitted that the Nazis in some way or other shaped the very world we have come to live in, often by reaction of course. So I will suggest, it is the ramifications for later understanding that gives this watershed study its heightened relevance.
Levi removes any question that Mozart and his great music became an important prong in the Nazi war- propaganda machine, but strangely also in their own bizarre and numinous self- assessments. In the course of accomplishing this melancholic work, an entire chapter is devoted to Nazi efforts to cope with Mozart’s very historically evident devotion to Freemasonry. Significantly, I believe, Levi’s careful anatomy of their effort also contains the key to understanding the related issue of how Masonry has come to be so misunderstood in relation to his music later on, by a way of an unsuspected surprise.
Indeed, the actual Nazi trajectory in dealing with this issue was not initially what one’s habitual intuition would make one think. Even though “on the ground”, as opposed to in aesthetic deliberation, they were pursuing a campaign of terror and destruction against Masons themselves and their Lodges from the start, as they did for other groups as well. Still, it is worth pausing and reflecting once again in preparation for such quirky dementedness, how the serious craft of history often thwarts our expectations in peculiar realms. The very subtitle of this book (“How the Third Reich Abused a Cultural Icon”), which is certainly an appropriate description, would lead us to believe that our most lock-step propaganda expectations would be fulfilled, For propaganda is not ever a subtle endeavor, and seemingly nothing about the Nazis was subtle in any sphere. Yet the actual history becomes more strange, and telling.
The many conspiracy- theories about Mozart’s death, and the infamous, hoary trope that “The Masons Killed Mozart” found their most avid exponent in a disgusting Nazi enthusiast of the period, and thus would seem to have been an attractive sop for a tyrannical regime trying to explain away Mozart’s Freemasonry. When one reads Levi’s accounting of the work of the horrible conspiracy-monger Mathilde Ludendorff, one is just ready for the next conceptual domino to fall historically in the Nazis’ gleeful appropriation of that mess as their own. But that is not what actually happened, and in that lies the grist for further understanding. In fact both Hitler and Goebbels had such and unhinged belief in the aesthetic supremacy of their own vision that it is clear that the normal slings and arrows of propaganda were not good enough for the Mozart case! Indeed, Goebbels with almost incredibly chaotic self-assessment of the regime’s intents, warned of, “the potentially destructive impact of Ludendorff’s writing, which he believed was destabilizing a carefully controlled campaign to extol the virtues of German supremacy in the literary and musical arts.” (p. 40) As if their entire rapacious approach to the world were not itself built on destabilizing any sense of what things really were in the first place, both artistic and political.
Worse yet, Hitler himself initially did not seem to think, amazingly, that there was any necessity of actually trying to negate Freemasonry’s role in the construction of The Magic Flute, even though he had written conspiratorially about the Freemasons in Mein Kampf. Levi notes that fairly early-on Hitler actually rejected a new “Aryan libretto” for The Magic Flute, because he, “had no intention of looking ridiculous in the eyes of the world [!]” (p.41). Here I feel an interesting methodological issue enters in Levi’s treatment of the matter. There is so much in this particular sphere of inquiry that is almost unbelievable for its unexpected thwarting of cultural expectations of what we heretofore have known of the Nazis and art, that I feel it is utterly understandable that Levi has clearly chosen a very reserved manner in dealing with it all. But I feel strongly justified in drawing out, in a more reflective mode here, the substratum- of -meaning that is implied by these outlandish facts. To wit, it is not just that we can marvel that the egomaniac Hitler, for his own reasons, apparently fretted Aryanizing Die Zauberfloete because it would it make him look ridiculous in the eyes of the world. That of course this was set against some of the most ridiculously cruel actions against humanity already undertaken at this period in the regime’s history, must be set strongly as background for truly understanding the surpassingly odd hermeneutic that apparently obtained for him vis-à-vis Mozart. It is only with this hermeneutical precision, I would argue based on Levi, that the utterly special nature the Mozart case becomes clear.
Further, only with this sense can we truly grasp the deeper meaning of the well-nigh incredible quotation that Levi provides from Hitler himself. One stares in near disbelief that this argument about The Magic Flute was actually made part of a Hitler speech at a 1937 Nuremberg rally. Levi quotes Hitler’s own words: “Only a nationally disrespectful man would condemn Mozart’s Zauberfloete because its libretto might oppose his ideological views.” (p.42) Again, I would assert that this attempt at neutral –sounding language in one of the most violently ideological persons in human history tells us clearly that with Mozart there was something altogether different and spiritually vexing, precisely because they held this matter in a special spiritual locus for themselves, revolting as that seems. For this can hardly have been a largesse or untypical tolerance on his part, and should make us see all the more that the Mozart case was quite special or unique. Surely one would expect a “take no prisoners” approach to historical inconveniences in their Mozart campaign as well, as they adopted in practically everything else. But again, this is not what we find. I believe we can speculate in light of Levi’s precise historical anatomy to the contrary, that Mozart represented a certain bizarre “life as art” apotheosis in their Nazi world-view, which they delusionally felt to be invincible, culturally, practically and even militarily. Thus not needing to be defended in their usual way. In such a delusional ambit, an aesthetically invincible matter would only be sullied by use of the usual propagandistic techniques.
Generally speaking, the nexus of issues to which this matter points is more often raised in relation to Hitler’s feelings about Wagner, surely less surprisingly that with Mozart. Surely, the Wagner matter has been well surveyed and folded into our historical understanding by now, so we can see the difference with Mozart case immediately. But with all due deference to those who actually admire Wagner’s output generally, all must concede that the aesthetic distance between Wagner’s artistic vision (even charitably considered) is closer to the Nazi world-view than Mozart’s ever could have been made to be. Therefore, the Nazi treatment of Mozart takes on a special meaning that it could not with Wagner. That is saying something indeed, given the centrality of Wagner for them.
For us at an historical distance now, what insight can be drawn from these strange facts, of both the initial reluctance to engage the conspiracy theories, and their delusory idealization of their own views in relation to that reluctance? This case is almost unique, to my mind, in the sense that so much of what the Nazis did was conceived explicitly and unapologetically for a propaganda aim. This matter of Mozart and Freemasonry, then, takes us queasily close to a dementedly numinous sense that they actually believed; and was not just the famous Hitlerian repeated-lie that would become the truth for all. To grasp it we have to, at least analytically, allow that the Nazi conception included some true sense that they were deploying something “noble” in their own character, construed as some sort of noble Germanness. This is inherently distinct from propaganda as it came to be known, especially by the Nazis themselves, tellingly. It in fact recalls the original, spiritual meaning of propaganda in the Propaganda Fidei of the Roman Catholic Church, and this gives us a clue as to its later ramifications. (Though let me add clearly I am not adumbrating any sense that the Roman Catholic Church had anything to do with it.) Yet the crucial take-way for us is that the actual artistic sublimity of Mozart could be made into a counterfeit (for us, not for them) sublime notion of the most demented kind.
Please note the distinction here. It may be depressing to read Levi’s account of how the entire war effort was given a raison d’etre in fighting for the greatness of German Art as represented in Mozart. It is grotesque, but believable. But these matters have been understood for quite some time in a general way, before the publication of Levi’s book. Merely as a for- instance, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. presented the Nazi propaganda film “Wunsch-Konzert” a number of years ago. Since I attended that presentation, I can confirm that the Film Curator’s introduction to the film highlighted this very matter of raison d’etre described later and fleshed-out by Levi, and it was also plenty evident from the film itself. (As an aside, it is a little curious that Levi does not focus really on this particular movie, but on others by the same director, for surely this one makes his point evident in an outrageous way, utterly confirming of his insights.)
But the real conundrum is in how the Nazis actually thought that what amounts to clearly to a mere a propaganda trope (even by their own usual praxis) was in the Mozart- case part of a larger notion of ideal German art. To such an extent, that they did not even feel it necessary to defend it by negating Freemasonry in the usual way. Even though Freemasonry was itself the very rebuke of their whole program, and well known for being so. That’s the rub. So the whole matter quirkily seemed to have an almost ontologically ideal status, such that it was invincible for them. Not just a matter of propagandistic defense, like virtually everything else. This surely deserves to be recognized as bizarre behavior in men whose very conceptions of life after all required notions of “constant war” in everything in life generally, which by definition always involves the expectation that everything must be defended or aggressed, but, apparently not with Mozart. Normally, that means practically destroying enemies at every single opportunity, and there is no doubt from Mein Kampf that Hitler considered Freemasons an enemy worthy of destruction.
So what other conclusion can be drawn from the strange initial unwillingness to engage or even condone the easy anti-Masonic conspiracy tropes? Only that the Mozart case represented a bizarre spiritual idealization for them which surpassed even their strange tropes of idealization with Wagner and Bruckner. That is the almost incredible conclusion that Levi’s analysis allows, to my mind. Of course, naturally later, it is important to note, as their delusory world unraveled, they stumbled into every violent trope they could get their hands on apropos Masonry, and they did with everything else in the downward spiral. If they could interchange the words Quam olim Abrahae promisiti in the Requiem for nationalist doggerel, it is clear there would be no nadir at some point in dealing with a fraternity supposedly in cahoots with the Jews. Still, I argue, the initial unwillingness in the earlier period of their regime tells the underlying story.
This matter can be profitably compared and contrasted with another totalitarian tyrant. Namely, compared to that of Lenin after he had finally gained power. Initially, he was set on leaving all the arts to wither s in the dust of his revolutionary vision, as being of zero importance. But he was quickly convinced by those around him that a brilliant Soviet arts-world would be a powerful diplomatic-propaganda tool. Thus in the Soviet case, the many great artistic achievements (from Shostakovich from to Suetin, say) had their ultimate genesis in the purest propaganda intent from the start, at least on the part of the leadership.
The contrast is very telling with the Nazi case. Mozart’s Masonry was not initially seen as a conceptual threat by the Nazis, precisely because their aesthetic view really was an aesthetic view, one that reached again towards some weird apotheosis of religiosity almost. Not simply propaganda. Of course, we hasten to add a completely demented aesthetic and religiosity.
So in a sense, the post-war scholarly attempt to limn the true meaning of Masonry for Mozart correspondingly would have been easier if the Nazi view of the arts had resembled more the Soviet approach. That is, if it had been entirely instrumental, and thus simply propagandized. Instead, I would argue, the Nazi example created a sort of conceptual quicksand from which it is has been hard for some to extricate themselves, through no particular fault of their own perhaps. Rather the Nazis created a conceptual morass, in having conceived truly (for their demented limits) of their Mozart campaign as a deeply echt spiritual purpose. Though for us today it could not seem more ridiculous and faulty.
Sadly, therefore, the actual analysis of Mozart and Masonry, in which particular matters of religious and spiritual aims are so crucial, has been badly affected by this Nazi tendency. Further, this matter likely touches on the Nazi use of propaganda in the Mozart case in the original spiritual sense of Propaganda Fidei. For naturally, there was arguably later the felt-need for a compensation by scholars to this very off-putting use of spiritual ideation.
As I detailed in my article “A Resolution of Mozart and Freemasonry: Enlightenment and Persistence of Counter-Reformation,” there has been a very scattered tendency to over-estimate Mozart’s relation to the Enlightenment, and underestimate his rather conservative religious (“Counter-Reformation”) make-up in some ways. As if over-emphasizing Enlightenment tropes, would subliminally de-fang the conceptual insanity bequeathed by the Nazi example, because the religious angle had been tarnished or tainted somehow by the bizarre quasi-religiosity of the actual Nazi view. In this regard, it is worth noting that one of the wretched writers in Ludendorff’s conspiratorial vein, Daumer, actually came up with a theory that Mozart encrypted The Magic Flute with a secret pro-Catholic and anti-Masonic schema, and Daumer unsurprisingly roped in the Men at Arms duet as supposed proof, merely because of the chant base. Thus, it is crucial to emphasize that the notion of taking Mozart’s Catholicism as central in relation to his Masonic ideals was besmirched by this demented pedigree. It is little wonder, then, that this crucial element has been downplayed later in reaction, and extraneous ones brought in.
For surely an entirely instrumental approach to arts generally (a la Lenin and the Soviets) would have been an easier conceptual ambit in which to later parse Mozartean matters after the war, had Soviet affairs taken them in that direction, for sake of argument. Clearly we are in an analytically bizarre place at the bottom of the aesthetic barrel, when we are having to compare tyrannical approaches. But, even at an absolute nadir, it is simply harder to conceptually disentangle that which has become mixed-up with quasi-religious lunacy at some point, precisely because it is often so a-typical, as it was evidently in the Mozart case with the Nazis. Rather than something in lock step with the “science” of propaganda.
Collaterally, the bind that this likely presented for later scholars is perhaps most evocatively seen rather in one of the most famous performers in the post-war era, Herbert van Karajan. Since a sound-picture is perhaps worth a thousand words, we could say. Karajan’s postwar hyper-spiritualized approach to Mozart and other music (not much in evidence in his wartime recordings significantly!) caused even his own cautious orchestra members to complain that he scarcely looked at them, conducting with his eyes constantly closed, as if lost in prayer, or some self-assumed spiritual plateau. The resultant somewhat neutral- sounding approach, evoking in intent an explicitly spiritual intent, did not preclude producing some great performances with Mozart (and surely Karajan’s Cosi with Schwarzkopf counts as that). Nor, I would argue, mutatis mutandis, did it preclude some great scholarship being produced later, even touching on Freemasonry. Yet it is worth identifying it all as a significant trope of reaction against the hyper-spiritualized approach of the Nazis to Mozart, which of course had at its ultimate aesthetic manifestation in a real-life and unimaginable blitzkrieg. In that light, Karajan’s famous otherworldly approach is legible as the reaction it is, and let it stand as well for a musical sound-picture evocation of the hermeneutical temptations of Mozart scholars as well.
The long-term result is, as I show in my article, that Mozart’s complex and deeply Masonic bridging between vigorous religious and general conceptual tendencies of his time is often essentially obliterated. To grasp this we have to see Mozart as operating aesthetically in a dynamic tension, expressed in the equilibrium of his musical genius. In addition we have to grasp the obvious role of Freemasonry’s professed goals as central to it. Not as an unlikely super-refinement of some spiritualized and outré possibility. Thus the faulty temptation is rather than disentangle the knot of quasi-religious Nazi idealization of Mozart, attractive compensatory heuristics and hermeneutics have been chosen instead by scholars. This has everything to do at length, with a matter that is certainly beyond my reflections here. Namely, the massive continued importance of Germanic cultures, in both Mozart scholarship and performance after the Nazi period. Something about which Levi has a lot to say, and not all of it exactly flattering. Yet plenty that is praiseworthy as well, considering the past that had to be overcome. But even the best there could hardly help reacting to the past. This fact alone makes it clear how a substratum of idealization and hermeneutical reaction could affect all of Mozart scholarship by way of this specific influence.
The wonderful thing about Erik Levi’s great analysis for further scholarship on Mozart’s Masonry specifically is that it shows how this obliterating tendency got started. I believe this to be a solid extrapolation from his ideas, but I emphasize that it is my interpretation and not Levi’s. To wit, the bizarre idealization of Nazi spiritual aims, led later to a massive, and perhaps often unconscious compensation of both purely Enlightenment themes, and also a scholarly preference for what might be called a grab bag of Enlightenment effluvia. This is surely an odd fate for those more flotsam Enlightenment themes as well, which mostly would seem not amenable to being mixed up in such a thing. The sui generis nature of Mozart’s personality is certainly relevant here, but not so much to reduce our surprise that so much could be misused in every conceivable direction against his simple devotion to Masonic ideals. Rather than focusing on the really perfectly obvious conservative religious nature of Mozart’s balancing, in relation to his personal grasp of Masonic tolerance, a lot else has been brought in. His letters make this utterly clear the folly of this approach, so how can it be so misunderstood? The extent of the misunderstanding almost begs therefore for an explanation of hermeneutical reaction as the likely etiology. So we could say, instead focusing on various conceptual fads which Mozart was supposedly taken by– again just for example and for sake of argument — symbolized archtetypally by the very appearance of the Mesmerist doctor in Cosi fan Tutte, we should focus on more obvious matters. Anyways, it would have taken a philosophical and religious genius on the level of an Albert Pike, rather than a musical genius like Mozart, to make some eclectic, yet powerfully fine use of the Mesmerist mess (as I detailed in my article on Pike’s Library a while ago in Heredom).
Ironically, and merely to extenuate this example a bit more for potential clarification of contingent deductions, there is scarcely anything to work with apropos Mozart and Mesmerism. Yet the very fact that the genesis of Bastien und Bastienne was related to Mesmer, and that “Ecco il medico” is sung in Cosi, seems to have generally opened the flood -gates to assume Mozart’s great interest in spiritual wackiness. Whereas the perfectly obvious fact from his letters and works themselves that he was deeply interested mostly in conservative Roman Catholicism, and artistically in its locally persisting Counter-Reformation artistic tropes, is ignored. Erik Levi’s book helps us see how the bizarre spiritualization of the Nazis with Mozart, in a bizarre revival perhaps for the antique Propaganda Fidei approach, made a whole generation of Mozart scholars shy away from Mozart’s real aesthetic tack: The balancing between conservative Counter-Reformation notions and Enlightenment ideals related to the Lessing-esque toleration of Freemasonry. For the real story is that in between his conservative Roman Catholicism and Enlightenment zeitgeist interests, Mozart the Wise preaches tolerance in his masterful musical development, if we are alert to his lesson. So mote it be.
The gentleness and subtlety of this Masonic lesson, expressed so powerfully by stylistic paradox in Mozart’s greatest works, raises one slight quibble with Levi’s virtually perfect handling of Masonic issues. Namely, that he leaves a matter (intentionally?) somewhat a bit vague in reference to the extent to which the Masonic nature of The Magic Flute was even known generally before Otto Jahn brought it to the fore in 1859. In discussing this earlier period Levi observes: “Against the background of the continuing popularity of Die Zauberfloete during this period, the Austrian authorities sought to divert attention away from the Masonic elements in the opera by issuing a brochure in 1794 which claimed that Mozart and his librettist Schikaneder had composed the work as an allegory for the French Revolution with an anti-Jacobin message.” (p. 35) Here a distinction is necessary, to my mind, between the “background” of what was popularly known, and what was known specifically within the Austrian bureaucracy of that day, which more particularly would have affected such authorities. In that distinction lies the problem with his statement, for I do not believe that the Masonic nature of The Magic Flute was known by a general audience much before the mid- nineteenth century.
As one of the foremost scholars of Freemasonry Margaret Jacob has made clear, that Austrian bureaucracy was notable for an “Erastian”-derived political view, which I noted in turn, specifically manifested in the Febronian political fashions of the day. But, that the background smell of such officially bureaucratically-held views, derived ultimately from the Swiss radical Thomas Erastus, may have bothered the authorities who produced the pamphlet in light of the French Revolution more than the constellation of ideas more contiguous there, and more germane to Masonry specifically. That is, the underlying Erasmian-liberal background of Freemasonry, which was often admixed with Erastian views. Liberal and religiously inclusive ideals coming from Erasmus, and so similar to Freemasonry would have had a less threatening fragrance for sure.
Therefore, the assumption that the “background” issue was one in which there was a popular knowledge of the Masonic nature of the opera is not really warranted, to my mind. For their actions likely more a response to fear specific as to the rumor-world of the Austrian bureaucracy, rather than truly “popular” knowledge amongst the masses at all. It speaks more, perhaps also, to the conundrum of an Austrian imperial view whose very bureaucracy embraced some Masonic ideals itself, yet clearly became fearful enough of it, to prohibit it. In addition, the extent to which these issues may have been based ultimately on the confusion and potent paranoia of Masonic-Jesuit complot theory, which I touched on in my article, is so vast as to complicate an simple assertion of the matter surely.
This does not mean we should deny the complexity or perhaps conflicting nature of the Masonic experience itself in Mozart’s cultural world. There is no need for a Panglossian resolution, even about Mozart’s devotion to Masonry. At the same time, no one could possibly dispute that Freemasonry on the Continent, and perhaps pre-eminently in the Germanic world, was in close proximity to a variety of unorthodox Enlightenment phenomena and ideas, and proto-Enlightenment ones as well. It is worth emphasizing further some of these might have contributed beneficially to aspects of Masonic history. Yet that is not the point, at least for a discussion of the mostly conservative Mozart. We miss the forest for the trees utterly, if we avoid the central fact that it was the more basic and underlying goals of Freemasonry – embracing liberal and conservative, as well as Enlightenment and pious themes as well — that were, and are, crucial to understanding Mozart’s actual musical development.
This may also relate to why Masons themselves have not been typically, shall we say, so brimming with ready clarifications in the larger world about our esteemed Composer-Brother who has gone to the Celestial Lodge. The reasons should be equally clear. Masons are sworn to protect the reputation of their Brothers, even in death. In the face of very sizeable amounts of anti-Masonic rhetoric and opprobrium, it is clear that Masons for a long time chose not to be too precise about the fact that Brother Mozart’s representation of Masonic matters in The Magic Flute was not exactly “by the plumb”. With gradual improvements in societal atmosphere, and perhaps even more importantly with the publication in more recent decades of clarifying works like J. M. Robert’s The Mythology of Societies and De Hoyos and Morris’ Is it True What They Say About Freemasonry?, there is an aperture for change. The Masonic Brotherhood is in a more inviting social ambit to make it more bluntly clear that Mozart had the deepest Masonic intents, but sometimes, especially with The Magic Flute, a few distractions and digressions from what Masons would call a “regular” Masonic portrayal. In the end, that he still managed to evoke the deepest ideals of the Craft is only a testament to his profound vision and music genius in relation to the deepest goals of Freemasonry.
It is worth noting too that though expert clarifications in Masonic scholarship have lessened the anti-Masonic bother in some way, further elucidations about Mozart are particularly needed still. This is because it is curious in relation to The Magic Flute that some of the worst and historically witless anti-Masonic tropes survive. One needs only mention the number of overwrought scholars, who in following Brigid Brophy’s now distant Mozart fantasy-interpretations, are convinced that Mozart’s great Masonic Opera is thematically notable mostly for “Masonic” misogyny! The simple contextual matter of history itself that Freemasonry was, comparatively, a vastly more inclusive realm towards women for its time than many other contemporaneous cultural realms, does not seem to make a dent for such overwrought theorists. That misprision is a great indicator of the potentially fraught nature for interpretation of Mozart’s Masonry generally. Further, we should not be surprised to find the aggressive masculinity of Nazi conceptions as a background for such, again by way of de facto hermeneutical reaction to the same.
Such a misprision bears specifically on a matter, which could be amplified more than can be done here, but will not be for sake of coherence. Namely, that if what many of us consider to be the greatest music ever written – the still- living proof of the virtues of humankind expressed in art – can be so misunderstood in relation to its genesis in the virtues of a specific cultural realm (Freemasonry),which the composer himself identified by sticking- with it in the face of even legal prohibition, then we should tread carefully with tangential interpretations indeed. Ascriptions of “Misogyny in The Magic Flute” are wrong not just because they flout the actual cultural history of Freemasonry, but more generally because they represent an entire escapist attitude in musicology, by which the central attitudes and evident devotions of the genius who wrote the works are somehow secondary to something that should not be treated as more than a gloss in his biography.
Besides which, surely the great tenderness towards his wife so evident in his letters, more warm and loving than most men were to women at this period, would seem to be worth a lot in itself. Therefore, I actually think the charge of misogyny is a great calumny against the composer and Freemasonry. Yet surely this whole digressive matter is just a sloppy part of that conceptual quicksand aforementioned, with its unpleasant etiology ultimately perhaps in hermeneutical reactions to Nazi conceptions. Rather than curse those scholars, who are probably well intentioned in some way, I will leave off by accentuating the positive. By looking forward to the massive monograph soon forthcoming on “Adoptive Masonry” by the excellent Masonic scholar Jan Snoek, who did such a incisive job in moderating my panel at the recent International Conference on the History of Freemasonry.
Therefore, in summary, if we look dispassionately at the facts of Mozart’s output we are more likely to untangle retrospectively the conundrum set- up tragically the Nazis’ misuse of Mozart. In tandem with clarifying how it has hermeneutically blinkered many on the subject of his Masonry by way of reaction. There is no doubting simply that this great man was involved in religious matters by writing great works for the Church, as well as in Enlightenment themes as seen in his operas and elsewhere. His masterpieces are proof that he was not fractured in these seeming contrasts. Therefore, Ockham’s Razor itself suggests that Freemasonry is simply the most likely explanation of his great ability to balance so much artistically. Similarly, contemporary analysis of his music generally, and of his Masonry specifically, need not be pushed to one extreme or another to make a point, or to distance itself from bizarre idealizations of the past in order to be on safe ground. Mozart’s Masonry will never be clear with such compensations. The actual history of the Nazi misuse of Mozart is outlandishly depressing enough already, and we do not need reactions to distant echoes in order to condemn that past, or be safe from its reach.
In the end, that some are still drawn to essentially compensatory views for Mozart- analysis is evidenced not even so much by various well-intentioned musicologists. Even if they both seem misconceive the essential thrust of Freemasonry, and the nature of their own compensatory analytic tendencies in relation to the depressing substratum of the past, they clearly have a good purpose in mind.
Poignantly, en fin, perhaps we can take Alfred Einstein’s treatment by the Nazi propaganda machine as an indication of another way in which a limited hermeneutic ambit has been created for Mozart analysis for such well-intentioned scholars, but again for what did not happen strangely. Ironically, even in relation to scholars who would never consider citing him because his work is taken as so old-fashioned, superseded, or just fuddy-duddy. Again, the seemingly amazing fact that, as Levi details, the Nazis were not as obsessed with shutting-down Einstein’s influence makes our point again. Even in the face of his caustic criticisms of their regime, and their aesthetic specifically, they eventually allowed the publication of his revision of the Koechel catalogue! This surprising treatment of this famous Jewish scholar and appreciator of Mozart’s Masonry allows us a curious confirmation of our basic sense that long-distant Nazi insanity on Mozart continues to influence some by way of reaction. For in a very odd “unintended –consequence” of a sort, that curious fact that the Nazis did not obliterate this most famous Jewish Mozart scholar’s influence may have correspondingly contributed to Masonry’s actual ideals being more subliminally suspect or dismissed by later scholars, at least compared to those tempting Enlightenment effluvia, which ironically often had more unsavory associations in history than Masonry.
On some level that the Nazis did not obliterate more of that attitude may have strangely functioned as a way that has made later thinkers want to de-emphasize Masonry real importance. In a contemporary world where Ludendorff’s nasty fictions of “The Masons Killed Mozart” still regularly get play in contemporary pulp- novels on Mozart, it is hardly far-fetched to see the reverberations of Nazi idealizations still affecting more serious matters like musicological scholarship by way of distant reaction. With Levi’s analysis now available we can see that these shameless novelists in their trafficking in ideas that were even too base for Hitler and Goebbels for a time (!), and are strangely indicative of the continuing underlying bind that conceptions of Mozart’s Masonry are put in. The fact that such novels still exist and can be bought online shows that it is still in the air. Not that serious scholars would accept such rubbish, for they don’t. But the matter signals that there still is some nether world of bizarre ideation still to be reacted- to in the conceptual ether, even by scholarship.
The wretched Nazi pedigree of these ideas does not seem to bother such novelists, but who would expect much people who write such pulp? But it should be a tip-off for scholars, who naturally want to be more careful. More surprising would be the distrust by scholars of, or turning-way from the seemingly obvious fact of deep Masonic ideals qua a balancing religious and conceptual ideals in Mozart’s personal and musical development. Let me stress again at the end that this is so even if by way of well-intentioned reaction to the past. Now that we have Erik Levi’s historical analysis we can also have a potential etiology of how the scholarly avoidance gained traction. Thus, still avoiding it would be tantamount to an acceptance, by way of reaction, of the very bind that the Nazis put the composer’s art and reputation originally in those terrible years.
Dedication: I would like to dedicate this essay to the memory of my German grandparents, Peter Paul Fuchs, the German judge-representative on an important International War Reparations court, and his wife Dr. Erna Fuchs-Bierig, from whom I was inspired in my love of Mozart, and by their reflections on living through those years in Germany.
——————————————————————————————–This interpretive essay was recently published in the excellent and widely read Masonic magazine The Working Tools (TWT) March 2013